Farm and Field

Time RIPE to transform agriculture and feed the world

Posted: Nov. 12, 2017 12:01 am

T ransformative work by scientists in the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, or RIPE, research project already has demonstrated yield increases of 20 percent.

A $45 million, five-year reinvestment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the U.K. Department for International Development will enable researchers to continue their work to address the global food challenge.

"This investment is timely. Annual yield gains are stagnating and means to achieve substantial improvement must be developed now if we are to provide sufficient food for a growing and increasingly urban world population when food production must also adapt sustainably to a changing climate," said RIPE Director Steven Long, the Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic at the University of Illinois.

"While no single strategy is going to get us there, our successes in redesigning photosynthesis are exciting," RIPE Deputy Director Don Orr said.

"RIPE has validated that photosynthesis can be engineered to be more efficient to help close the gap between the trajectory of yield increase and the trajectory of demand increase," Orr said.

Researchers simulated the 170-step process of photosynthesis and used computer models to identify seven potential pipelines to improve it, demonstrating that one approach could increase crop productivity by as much as 20 percent -- a dramatic increase over typical annual yield gains of 1 percent or less.

RIPE and its funders will ensure that their high-yielding food crops are globally available and affordable for smallholder farmers to help feed the world's hungriest and reduce poverty, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

"It takes about 15 years from discovery until crops with these transformative biotechnologies are available for farmers," Long said. "It will therefore be well into the 2030s before such superior crops are seen at scale in farmers' fields."

Hog supply

Hog farmers this year dodged lower prices when they expanded sow herds and grew the second-largest pork supply since 2008.

University of Missouri Extension economists say prices stayed above expectation, with growing exports and consumers' love for bacon boosting demand for the growing supply.

Scott Brown and Daniel Madison see price drops in 2018 and 2019. Feed and nonfeed expenses continue to be uncertain with financial losses possible.

After success, hog farmers will test their luck in 2018. ‘Higher sow numbers with more production per sow boosts expected production more than 3 percent," Brown said. "Pork exports grew more than 12 percent in the first half of this year. More export sales are needed to take added pork, keeping prices from sharp declines."

There is a plus for producers this fall.

"Added processing capacity coming online boosts demand for live hogs," Brown said.

There's more than supply and demand in play. A shrinking dollar helps export buyers. Free-trade deals must remain in place to move pork abroad.

U.S. consumers love their bacon, but Brown said they won't take all of the growing supply.

Sign up for Email Alerts