PROMO 660 x 440 Agriculture - Computer Word Green Arrow - iStock

'Designer seeds' poised to transform agriculture

Mike Moen

(Prairie News Service) In the future, the food you eat could be grown from seeds developed with gene editing tools.

As scientists tinker with crop DNA, North Dakota farmer advocates see opportunity while expressing caution. Certain companies are racing to perfect seed technology by establishing genome blueprints emphasizing specific traits, such as making a crop more resistant to drought.

Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, said the topic has come up in recent global conferences he has attended. He thinks the products will be on the scene soon, adding they could bring stronger yields for farmers, along with healthier crops to sell.

"We could maybe turn off the little sequence within the DNA that could maybe, some people that are gluten intolerant, could maybe eat wheat products," Watne suggested. "That could create a premium market for a couple of farms that want to go and produce a specific wheat. "

There's also a type of tomato which can help reduce blood pressure. The seeds are different from genetically modified organisms, because there's no use of outside DNA sources. GMOs eventually became controversial amid negative public perception.

Watne urged regulators to strike a balance fostering accessibility while deterring monopolies.

Watne argued there should also be strong "truth-in-labeling" policies so consumers know exactly what they are getting. He added a robust approach could help meet future demand for food. 

"Maintaining an abundant food supply keeps the prices of food somewhat in check," Watne pointed out. "We never really thought about that until we saw empty shelves during COVID and have been living with food inflation."

He noted another benefit is providing more advantages to farmers in underdeveloped countries. The United States and the European Union face calls to develop more uniform regulatory structures as the products reach the market.