Editor's note: This article was written beforesocial distancingmeasures were enforced by the Chief Public Health Office.
People involved in P.E.I.'s agriculture industry had a chance to learn about gene-editing for better foods and thermal imaging drones during last month's P.E.I. Soil and Crop Improvement Association Conference.
Put on by the P.E.I. Soil and Crop Improvement Association, the annual event brings experts and Islanders together to hear about the latest research in their field.
Ian Affleck was one of the visiting speakers. The vice-president of plant biotechnology at Crop Life Canada in Ottawa, he is originally from a potato farm in Bedeque and now works to regulate plant breeding technology and to build public trust.
Gene-editing is a method that enables plant breeders to make precise changes to the plants genetic material, which can improve their productivity and sustainability and often mirrors what happens in nature or through traditional breeding.
Gene-editing holds a lot of promise for the agriculture industry, said Affleck to a crowd of more than 100 who attended a morning session.
The gene-editing technology he works with is different from the previous techniques used to develop corn, soybean and canola crops grown now.
Those early genetically-modified crops got a bad reputation, he said.
But GMO foods arent inherently unsafe.
When the Hawaiian papaya crop was destroyed by ring spot virus in 1998, university researchers genetically engineered a new variety resistant to the disease.
Eighty-five per cent of all papaya on the market today is GMO, said Affleck.
Its rarely talked about because it isnt owned by a company. Its owned by a university and just given to the growers.
There are numerous ethical, scientific and government groups at work to ensure Canadas food is safe, said Affleck.
Helping the public engage in agriculture is really important. Especially on gene-editing, for this to come forward, the government, developers and farmers, we all have a role to play in public trust.
Right now, there are no gene-edited foods on the shelves and only a few, tightly monitored crops in fields.
Now is the time for government, developers and farmers to be talking about plant breeding technology and food safety, said Affleck.
Government and developers need to talk to the public earlier and more often, and farmers have to tell their stories about why theyre trustworthy developers of food, said Affleck.
And this is not just about gene-editing. This is right across the board. The public want to know what youre doing, and they want to trust you.
Trust in the plant science is being built all the time.
When Affleck wanted to help farmers cut down on herbicide-resistant weeds, he went for the bottom line.
But talking money was the wrong approach.
The number one thing that by far caught peoples eye was the idea that you hand your land down to your children. If you dont protect the resistance aspect of it, youll be handing down something thats broken, said Affleck.
Precision agriculture is helping farmers protect the soil they hand down to their children as well.
Special equipment helps farmers gather precise information and deliver specific treatments to their fields.
Felix Weber was part of the trade show in Summerside to introduce the eBeeSQ agricultural drone to farmers. The sleek black drone flies over a field and takes special photographs showing a thermal image.
If the crop is hot, its thirsty, said Weber. Seeing exactly where the crop needs help makes it easier for farmers to head straight to the problem area and see whats causing the issue.
The drones information will let farmers target irrigation, fertilizers and pest control to areas that need it most.
Being exact with the costly products means less expense and less run-off. Also, targeting just the areas in need means higher, more sustainable yields.
Craig Gilberts company, Cradle Ag Solutions, was demonstrating several innovations at the trade show, including the SmartFirmer.
The high-tech, electronic wand attaches to corn planters. It reads the soil temperature, moisture and capacity for nutrient uptake in the seed furrow as the seeds are planted.
Its all to help corn plants pop out of the soil at the same time. A difference of more than 36 hours in emergence makes a big difference in yields, said Gilbert.
However, the goal isnt just to grow a lot of corn and harvest a big crop.
A good yield might mine the soil and leave it depleted of essential nutrients and organic matter, said Weber.
Yield monitoring doesnt tell me the potential. It tells me what I removed, said Weber.
Sustainable farming ideally increases the harvest as well as the potential for the next year, he said.
Ian Affleck is fascinated with the science of farming. Growing up on his familys potato farm in Bedeque, P.E.I., he was keen to learn and apply his knowledge.
The science aspect of farming always caught my eye, said the son of a seed farmer. "I was always interested in the plant breeding.
Affleck was one of the presenters at the P.E.I. Soil and Crop Improvement Association Conference in Summerside last month.
I thought I was going to come home and farm. I thought I was going to get my bachelors in plant breeding and I was going to come home and maybe we'd do some plant breeding of our own.
The science aspect of farming always caught my eye. I was always interested in the plant breeding.
- Ian Affleck
But after getting his undergraduate degree at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, now the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University, Affleck moved on to school in Ontario and fell into opportunity after opportunity in Ottawa.
Its 50 square kilometres, surrounded by reality, said Affleck, quoting his first boss in the city.
So its good to be back in reality discussing farming a little closer to where it happens.
Affleck, the vice-president of plant biotechnology at Crop Life Canada, spoke about his companys efforts to build trust in new gene-editing technology used today to develop new crops to help farmers and consumers.
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