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Biofuels: What Impact on Crop Protection and Seeds Now?

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In the first years of this century governments in the US and Europe, followed by many others, moved quickly to support the development of a biofuels industry. A precedent had already been set thirty years earlier in Brazil with the use of sugarcane to produce ethanol as an alternative liquid transport fuel. Longer term concerns over the reliance of the world economy on oil and shorter term fears about security of supply, together with pressures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and desires to support rural economies led to policies aimed at promoting the growth of bioethanol and biodiesel as vehicle fuels. The impact of biofuels on the crop protection and seeds industry has already been significant in various ways. This has been because the major crop feedstocks for biofuels are grown in highly developed agricultural systems which are already the main markets for crop protection products and proprietary seeds. Corn in the US and wheat in Europe are being grown for ethanol production, and soybeans in the US are a biodiesel feedstock. In addition, the other major biofuel feedstocks, sugarcane for ethanol and oilseed rape (canola) for biodiesel, are strategically important crops for the industry, albeit of lower value. The area of sugarcane harvested in Brazil has been forecast to double and production to increase 250% over the next decade or so. Oilseed rape is a strategic crop because of its place as a break crop in wheat rotations in Europe and Canada. Other markets may be important locally or for specific products, eg oil palm in South East Asia is expanding as a biodiesel feedstock. Huge areas of fertile cropland are needed for biofuels to make any significant contribution, so, especially because of the already pressing need to produce more food, increasing yield has been re-emphasised as an important target, regardless of crop or territory. Crop yields and initiatives aimed at increasing these are considered and some of the activities of the major industry players in the Americas, Europe and Asia are reviewing. Finally, some of the more indirect impacts of the push for biofuels are noted.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2009

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