Jack Uldrich
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A Futurist’s Perspective on Agriculture

Posted in Agriculture


Earlier this week I was in Santa Barbara addressing the Cotton Sourcing Summit sponsored by the National Cotton Council and Cotton Council International. I discussed a number of technological innovations in the fields of information technology, nanotechnology and biotechnology, but spent a more time on the latter.

The reason is because advances in biotechnology are going to play out in some unexpected ways in the agricultural industry. Let me provide just two examples. First, we know that companies such as Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science are on the verge of sequencing the genomes of different species of cotton. What this suggests is that in the not-too-distant future cotton will be more drought-resistant, heat-resistant, and less reliant on certain types of herbicides and pesticides. As a result, cotton may soon be able to be grown in some unexpected places.

One potential implication for the U.S. cotton industry (which relies heavily on exports) is that the country might face new competitors. For example, if drought-resistant cotton seeds are manufactured suddenly vast tracks of land in dry areas such as Australia will become open to growing cotton. In turn, because Australia is closer to Asian markets for cotton, Australia—and not the U.S.—may become the more dominant exporter.

Advances in genomics may also roil the concept of what it means to be “green.” Today, organically grown cotton is seen as being more environmentally friendly. This is true in the sense that no herbicides or pesticides are used, but organically-grown cotton also uses more water—a practice which is not sustainable or “green.” If cotton can be genetically modified to use less water is it possible that some consumers may come to perceive the biotechnologically-enhanced cotton to be greener than organic cotton?

I am not saying this is a given or that it is even likely but I do believe it is possible. The future has a curious way of turning out differently than many people expect.

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