European Ag Official Gets a Closer Look at UNL Research

European Ag Official Gets a Closer Look at UNL Research

May 9, 2008

European and American farmers can help solve the world's growing food crisis, but they need to be able to take full advantage of genetically modified crop technology, one of Europe's leading agricultural officials said Thursday.

Photo of Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, listens as UNL Extension Engineer Paul Jasa discusses no-till farming. Parish is flanked by Gov. Dave Heineman, left, and Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, listens as UNL Extension Engineer Paul Jasa discusses no-till farming. Parish is flanked by Gov. Dave Heineman, left, and Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. (University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources photo)

 

Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, made his comments while reviewing University of Nebraska-Lincoln research and extension efforts at the Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead. The tour was part of a two-day visit to Nebraska sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

"We want to showcase Nebraska agriculture," Gov. Dave Heineman said as he introduced Parish next to UNL plots used for tillage and carbon sequestration research.

Parish, a member of Britain's Conservative party, was particularly interested in UNL's work on genetically modified crops. He has been a leading advocate for biotechnology in Europe, where the public has been more skeptical about the technology than Americans. Parish said the mood there may be changing with the pressure of higher food prices. Sally Mackenzie, head of UNL's Center for Plant Science Innovation, said UNL is the nation's leading university in field testing genetically modified crops.

"Growers get fed up hearing all the promises from the lab and never seeing it taken to the field," Mackenzie said. However, UNL is proving the effectiveness of biotech crops in real-farm situations.

The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources scientist pointed out several aspects of UNL's biotech research, including development of crops resistant to the broadleaf herbicide dicamba; modified soybean oils for enhanced nutrition, animal-fish feed and biodiesel; and crop male sterility that keeps pollen from genetically modified crops from cross-pollinating with other crops.

Biotechnology also is key in making crops more resistant to disease and pests and more tolerant of cold and drought, Mackenzie added.

While industry leaders such as Monsanto also are immersed in this research, Mackenzie said UNL's efforts are key because "universities have relationships with producers that companies don't have."

Parish agreed that the unbiased research of land-grant universities such as UNL is more likely to convince Europeans of the safety of genetically modified crops than assurances from industry.

Parish also heard Thursday about UNL research on no-till farming and carbon sequestration, both of which are aimed at making agriculture more environmentally sensitive.

"We want him to understand that farmers are good stewards of the land," said Dan Duncan, assistant dean of UNL's Agricultural Research Division. "We're working hard to conserve water and energy and save carbon."

UNL Extension Engineer Paul Jasa pointed out to Parish that no-till farming, in which crops are planted in residue from the previous year's crops, cuts equipment, fuel and herbicide costs; reduces soil erosion; conserves critical soil moisture; and reduces weed competition.

"Yes, there doesn't seem to be much weed out there at all, does there?" Parish said as he reviewed a no-till university plot that was ready for planting.

UNL's carbon sequestration research is "a revolutionary project," said Soil Scientist Dan Walters. On fields in Mead, researchers are monitoring how much carbon is stored in the soil in various cropping systems. The more carbon can be captured in the soil, the less it contributes to global warming, Walters said.

"We're still creating global warming potential in the agricultural systems we practice today. No doubt about it," Walters told Parish. "But it's reduced from what it was in the past. ... We've stabilized that loss (of carbon) and we know the components we need to work on to continue to improve."

A visit to state Sen. Ron Raikes' farm and cattle operation outside Lincoln included a primer on the feeding of wet distillers grains to cattle. UNL Animal Scientist Terry Klopfenstein pointed out that Nebraska is well-positioned to take advantage of this byproduct of ethanol production.

"The synergy between corn and ethanol and cattle is really important in Nebraska and it puts Nebraska at an economic advantage compared to other states," he said.

Raikes said UNL's work is critical to operations like his.

"We rely very heavily on research done at the University of Nebraska," Raikes said.

Parish said he enjoyed his look at Nebraska agriculture, which included a chance to pilot a John Deere tractor pulling a 16-row planter through the field.

"We've got more in common than we think" between European and American agriculture -- outside of "a hormone or two, perhaps a little GM (genetic modification) here and there," Parish said.

A UNL official agreed.

"While we may have differences, we have many more similarities," said Steve Waller, dean of UNL's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. "The more we share, the more we communicate, the more we all benefit."

UNL Extension, the Agricultural Research Division and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are all part of the University's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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