Plant breeding in the EU: new research highlights benefits for tomato and alfalfa

July 7, 2021

Plant breeding innovation
An addendum to prior research on the socio-economic and environmental values of plant breeding has just been published for tomato and alfalfa.

In their analysis of various impacts of plant breeding in the EU since 2000, Noleppa and Cartsburg (HFFA Research GmbH 2021) have most recently concluded that genetic crop improvements of the past 20 years have contributed to various socio-economic and environmental benefits. It particularly turned out that plant breeding-induced innovations count a lot: on average and across all major arable crops cultivated in the EU, plant breeding contributes approximately 2/3 to innovation-induced yield growth.

Although being already rather holistic, the analysis of Noleppa and Cartsburg (2021) was limited in the sense that it focused on 10 (groups of) arable crops cultivated in the EU only. Specialty crops were not subject of the research, and the feeding crop sector was also covered to a partial extent only.

The newly released supplementary study aims at providing an enlargement of what has already been discussed by Noleppa and Cartsburg (2021) for two crops: tomato and alfalfa.

Among the key findings:

  • Annual plant breeding-induced yield growth rates of tomato and alfalfa farming in the EU counts for 1.68%  and 0,41 % between 2000-2019. If plant tomato/alfalfa breeding would have stopped in 2000 we would experience a current EU wide yield loss for these two crops of 28%/8%. With this in total, the EU today would thus not be able to net export an equivalent of almost 2.4 million tons of tomatoes but would be required to net import approximately 2.6 million tons of this agricultural commodity.
  • The full implementation of the two EU strategies (Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategy) until 2030 would lead to EU-wide production losses of alfalfa and tomatoes of 23-25% while the potential plant breeding-induced additional market supply in 2030 will be lower which would result in higher imports, increasing prices and less farm income and with this competitiveness of EU-farmers.

In order to help better compensate the negative production effects of the EU strategies plant breeding must speed up, and NGTs can contribute to that!

The new addendum shows that NGTs can introduce new options to speed up these developments e.g. for the tomato sector. Using NGTs for breeding of Phytophthora-resistant tomato varieties could lead to the saving of two fungicide applications per year.

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