A gene identified to allow sunflowers to grow in drought conditions has been placed in corn, soybeans and wheat through biotechnology research conducted in Argentina, but the most exciting results to Argentina agriculture is the potential to improve soybean yields during drought years. 

Preliminary results with soybeans are quite encouraging as reported by the AFB global news agency and writer Liliana Samuel. "The tougher the environment, the more advantageous the transgenic plant," Raquel Chan, who heads the Agrobiotechnology Institute at the National University of the Coast, was quoted as saying.

She said the genetically modified crops also performed better in salty/saline soil than soybeans now available in Argentina. The research team reportedly has identified the gene as HAHB4.

Reporter Samuel wrote that Chan’s “team has signed an agreement with Argentine firm Bioceres, which is co-owned by over 230 agricultural producers, to use and exploit the gene.” The report further noted how “Bioceres formed a joint venture named Verdeca with the US-based agricultural technology company Arcadia Biosciences to invest as much as $30 million to further develop the technology.”

Argentina in an agricultural powerhouse in production of corn and soybeans, but the regions where theses crops are grown are subject to yield-limiting drought on a regular basis. This year, a hard-hitting drought cut production dramatically; therefore, farmers of the country are quite interested in seed varieties that boost yields under limited-water situations. The estimate quoted is that drought-tolerant soybeans could increase Argentina’s agricultural income by $10 billion.

Early research has shown that the drought-tolerant soybeans, being submitted for registration to the government, could produce an economical yield with as little as 20 inches of rain per year, although that rainfall still needs to be appropriately timed, according to the AFB report. And the statistics show the most productive areas of Argentina would receive even more rainfall than that in most drought years.

The recent AFP new agency report was written from the perspective of telling both sides of the story because activists against biotechnology are vocal; therefore, the non-science negatives that Greenpeace activists are screaming were included, which naturally probably scared the uninformed, less educated readers.

Greenpeace spokespersons are quoted as saying the planting of drought-resistant soybeans will result in the use of more pesticides, the deforestation of more land for soybean planting, reduced biodiversity of the environment and country’s crop production, many rural workers losing their jobs and eliminating export of soybeans to Europe.

The most sensational quote came from Carlos Manessi, vice president of the center for environmental protection in Santa Fe, who said soybean production can negatively influence rural communities by reducing the country’s rural population more than is already occurring. He complained that biotech soybeans will continue to take over areas that were once used for other crops that are much more labor intensive, such as fruit groves.   

"Why? Because soy crops require very little labor, but also because of the huge amount of chemicals used, which forces people to leave," he is quoted as saying.

But Chan, the research head, is quoted as saying, "The idea is not to reduce the amount of arable land. Rather, (biotech advances) allow producers to have the same return using less land."

Argentina’s government registration for the new biotech seed is anticipated to occur about 2015 if progress continues as expected with the data package, licensing and field research.