A pathway for agricultural innovation

In an interview with the magazine 'Europan Research' Aleksandra Malyska, Executive Manager of Plants for the Future, discusses the important role of this European Technology Platform (ETP) and how its work is stimulating research and innovation in Europe’s plant science and agriculture sector.

In your opinion, what role does innovation in plant breeding play in sustainable agriculture?

Since the turn of the millennium, genetic crop improvements on average increased yields by 16 per cent across all major arable crops cultivated in the EU. Producing more from one unit of arable land has many environmental benefits. Thanks to innovation in plant breeding, we have been able to avoid significant biodiversity losses, save 55 million cubic metres of water that would be needed to achieve the same productivity, and reduce emission of CO2 by 3.4 billion tons.

What steps does Europe need to take to tackle some of the main research challenges currently facing the world’s crop production?

Europe urgently needs to support development and implementation of enabling technologies, such as next-generation plant breeding methods to drive innovation for a wide range of plant species. The important challenge is also to promote equitable use of prebreeding. For Europe to be successful and competitive the multi-actor approach and close collaboration of different stakeholders across the entire agrifood/nonfood value chain is needed. It is crucial to support basic collaborative research as well as the research and innovation interface. In addition we must not forget about the role of facilitating advancement of and access to state-of-the-art infrastructure for research.

What do you consider are the emerging trends for research into plant production and what developments will they lead to?

There are a number that we will see, including new breeding technologies such as genome editing tools (e.g. Crispr/Cas9) that can significantly accelerate breeding process; pre-breeding activities which bridge conservation and use of plant genetic resources and thus offer additional access to new and desirable genes to generate useful materials for breeders; high-throughput plant phenotyping where the interactions between genotype and environment determine plant performance and productivity; improved data management and modelling, as there is a need for optimisation and standardisation of data handling processes (e.g. for supporting digital farming); and improved consumer research, including better communication and outreach to society at large.

About Plants for the Future

The European Technology Platform Plants for the Future is a stakeholder forum for the plant sector with members from industry, academia and the farming community. It serves as a platform for all stakeholders concerned with plants to express their views and represent their interests in an open discussion process.