Picture: 123RF/OTICKI
Picture: 123RF/OTICKI

Despite notable wheat-breeding efforts, efficient seed systems and mechanisation in SA, yield gains have remained relatively stagnant over the years compared to maize (due to the adoption of genetic modification). The adoption of genetically modified (GM) maize increased yield per hectare, hence SA is a net exporter of maize. This yield increase can be attributed to drought tolerance, better control of weeds due to herbicide tolerance, reduced levels of pests and diseases, and low levels of mycotoxins.

Climate change is upon us and is affecting wheat production due to increased temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns. This has led to a decline in the wheat area under cultivation, particular in the Free State. Climate change is likely to also increase pest populations, disease pressure and alter life cycles of pest species. There is also a possibility of pest migration to new areas.

There is therefore a huge opportunity for biotech companies to develop GM wheat to increase yields, and through development of wheat varieties that are drought resistant, disease resistant and herbicide resistant. GM wheat in SA would change the prospects of wheat yields in the midst of climatic changes.

The adoption of GM wheat would help SA farmers harvest more from fewer inputs by reducing the damage caused by drought, weeds, pest and diseases.

Athenkosi Makebe,Via e-mail

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