YORKTON - There are two areas of future development in agriculture which have long held my interest in a significant way.
The most recent of those is the potential of robotics for everything from tractors sans an on-board operator, to robotic ‘bees’ pollinating crops, to sprayers using sensors to only apply chemical to weed plants.
There is little opposition to robotic development, although it must, in many cases be shown to be reliable and of course affordable.
The other area of development is seen by many to be much more of a ‘Pandora’s Box’ and that is genetically modifying plants and animals.
I recall years ago sitting entranced by a presentation in Yorkton by futurist and economist Dr. Lowell Catlett who worked at the New Mexico State University as I recall.
The presentation at the time was called ‘The Future is So Bright You need to Wear Shades’ – although that might be paraphrasing a touch.
Still, I recall him talking about farmers one day being able to raise goats which have been genetically modified to have cheetah skin.
At the time it sounded very much like something out of a sci-fi novel, but it was also intriguing to think just where genetic modification might take us.
Many consumers blanch rather white at the idea of genetically modifying plants and animals. While GM canola is not very much the norm, most modified to not succumb to particular herbicides, there has been significant opposition to wheat going down the same path.
But, herbicide resistance is only the tip of what genetic modification might mean.
For example, it was earlier this year that a genetically-modified pig heart was transplanted into an American patient.
The result of the operation was not what was hoped, with the patient dying some 40 days after the operation, but initially, it looked good from reports and suggests that the technology may well be viable. That is potentially huge when you consider the availability of organs for transplant is generally in short supply.
GM developments may ultimately be life-saving.
Of course, getting GM organisms from successful development to where they are approved by government regulatory offices – in particular, if they are to be for human consumption – can be a long, and costly process.
Depending on which side of the GM debate one sits, reams of red tape can be positive as it delays the development of a feared technology, or as a roadblock to developments aiding producers and consumers.
What is of course needed is a balance, regulations which allow the science to grow, while still making sure a watchdog is being vigilant.
Ultimately though, GM technology will grow. Whether that ever means there are ‘cheetah-goats’ is unknown, but the crops and animals we produce in the future are likely to be genetically different from today.