Tech-savvy farming

As populations grow, researchers are applying high-tech science to traditional farming methods to help farmers produce bigger yields that are also drought and disease resistant.

TRANSCRIPT

As populations grow, researches are applying high-tech science to traditional farming methods to help farmers produce bigger yields that are also drought- and disease-resistant.

To learn more about what's being done, we head to Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

[ Machinery beeping ]

We take samples and send them to the lab for analysis to confirm that the gene that was in the parent plant was passed on to these plants.

Growing a healthier world, for Jenna Ausbon, means studying one leaf, one plant at a time.

We are growing these plants for seed production, and they'll go to field trial.

So anything that performs well here will go on to a field trial for further data analysis.

Seed meets soil inside the massive greenhouses of Bayer's Crop Science division in Research Triangle Park.

It's cool to see that something that I've worked on is doing well and going through the pipeline and may eventually become a product.

The challenge is to help farmers feed the Earth's expected population of 9.7 billion people by 2050.

It's estimated that food production will need to increase by 40% to meet that demand.

So it's not a situation where we can simply plant more to get more.

Why?

Because only 3% of today's land base is used for agriculture.

It's likely not gonna grow, with global urbanization, with land degradation.

So it really is about, 'How do we create new ways, new seeds, new production practices, new innovations, new tools, so that they can vastly improve the production on the same land base they have?'

We'll give this one... a 20%.

Which will be 100?

Yep.

Okay.

Great.

This one, obviously...

Scan that one for you.

Yep. Scan.

[ Machinery beeps ] This one here is 100%.

Because traditional farming methods won't dramatically increase food production, scientists use the greenhouses to test new varieties of plants that grow faster, use less water, and are more disease- and pest-resistant.

The goal is to discover new plant varieties that can meet the demands of farmers and food production, while at the same time reducing the amount of chemicals applied to fields.

So what we're seeing right now is a term we'll refer to as 'chlorosis.'

And so that is yellowing tissue caused by herbicide.

And some of this would recover, some of it wouldn't, but, again, for our purposes, we're looking for a perfect plant.

We want something with no damage at all -- something closer to this plant here.

So we don't want to see So as it moves forward, those plants will have a better chance with their performance in the field and further on.

And sometimes, the best way to test for insect tolerance is to get down and dirty in the soil.

In the nematode lab, scientists check for -- you guessed it -- nematodes.

It's a tiny worm that chews its way into plant roots, only lives for 30 days, but reproduces so quickly only a few worms can devastate an entire field of soybeans.

Nematodes cause more than $1 billion in crop damage each year.

Counting the worms in a soil sample checks for the effectiveness of a new pesticide.

There are roughly 70 rooms inside Bayer's multiple greenhouses.

That allows specific environments from around the world to be replicated.

It also means scientists can test how specific plants would grow in each of those environments.

Corn is the crop most produced in the world, but it is used for more than just food.

Wheat takes up the most acreage.

Rice is the most important food crop.

Researches hope to harvest the future of farming.

[ Machinery beeping ]

First, we get the plants in from our Innovation Center, where they put new traits inside the plants, inside the seeds.

We receive those plants, and then we want to grow them up until they're big and tall, until they set seeds.

Because with those seeds, then we can do new experiments.

So it's basically production sort of goal.

Our second goal is really to test how well the plants are performing based on what we put inside the plants.

So we're putting new characteristics, new traits inside the plants.

Sometimes that means resistance to insects.

So our job is to expose an insect to these plants and see if the insect dies.

If it doesn't, we got a bad plant.

That means into the trash can.

If it's a good plant, we'll grow it up until it's big and tall, get seeds, and do another experiment with it.

Our third goal is, once we kind of have a good result -- Let's say a plant that's killing an insect -- we may need to make a hundred or a thousand variations of that particular plant, of that particular characteristic, to find the really good plant that's going to hold up in the multitude of different geographies in the U.S., the different stresses like drought, rain, and so forth.

So you need to make a lot of variants, and 999 of them won't be good enough for commercialization towards the farmer, but we're looking for that one.