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Environment: Classroom Activities in Plant Biotechnology


Environmental factors can cause terrible damage to our food supply. Examples of weather damage can be found in the following:

  • In Colorado, in 1888, Montmorency and Morella sour cherry orchards covered 10,000 acres, earning Loveland the reputation as the region’s best area for raising cherries in Colorado. Spring Glade Orchard was the largest cherry orchard west of the Mississippi River. In 1928, 1929 and 1930, the orchards produced more than $1 million worth of cherries. The cherry trees were planted in large orchards all around Fort Collins and Loveland but were almost totally destroyed by several years of drought followed by heavy frosts and the industry declined until 1960. There are only a few remaining pockets of cherry trees to be found today in this region.

  • In Florida, our oranges and grapefruits can often be wiped out by unusually cold weather that freezes the fruit on the trees. The entire banana crop, including the trees themselves, was lost when a cyclone came ashore in North Queensland, Australia in 2006.

  • Field crops such as wheat, corn, rye and alfalfa can be lost if the rain does not come at the right time, or if too much rain comes all at once.

There is not much that we can do about the weather but it may be possible to breed some plants to be more tolerant of some of these unusual changes so that not all the crop is lost.

Global warming

How does this affect where crops can be grown and the length of the growing season. What happens if the sea level rises? How many people live and farm in coastal areas throughout the world?

The 16 Future Harvest centers (see for a complete list of the research centers) recently approved a three-year, $20 million pilot program for research associated with reducing the potential impacts of global warming. One of the program's major priorities will be to develop rice varieties and water management practices that can reduce the emission of methane, one of the major greenhouse gasses.

The following websites contain information about how climate change may affect our ability to feed ourselves and provide points for discussion of what we must consider in the future if we are to continue to produce enough food for everyone.

Other priorities identified by the Future Harvest Centers include the development of crop varieties that are more heat resistant, can tolerate greater disease and insect pressure, or withstand exposure to excess water.

Improving the efficiency of nitrogen fertilizers, a major source of emissions of nitrous oxide - a gas that contributes to global warming - will also receive scrutiny, as will the development of simple and accurate ways to measure soil carbon.

Go to Activity 7 (Effect of Environment on Plant Growth)

Go to Activity 8 (Research suggestion)