The Challenges Ahead
It is possible for ducks and biofuels to coexist. In the near term, if corn ground is expanded into existing cropland and the crops displaced do not expand into native prairie or land now enrolled in CRP, detrimental effects on waterfowl will be minimized. If switchgrass and other perennial grasses are planted on current cropland and managed for benefits that include both energy and wildlife, then society and ducks will both win.
Clearly, few emerging industries have as much potential to shape the landscape, and the habitat on which ducks depend, as biofuels. Ducks Unlimited is committed to helping shape the renewable energy industry in a productive way. If waterfowlers, conservationists, and industry leaders can forge an alliance and agree upfront to create a truly “green” industry that serves our collective interests, there is reason for optimism in duck country.
Corn Marches Northwest
Corn is among the most highly modified and improved crops in the history of agriculture. For decades, traditional crossbreeding techniques have resulted in remarkable increases in corn yield. Now, a new wave of advanced genetics opens the door for advancements as great as, and possibly greater than, those that occurred in the past.
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With “marker-assisted” breeding, genetic markers are used to identify the desired characteristics in a plant while it is a seedling. This allows rapid development of new corn varieties because breeders need not wait for plants to mature and flower, as they would with traditional crossbreeding techniques. In addition, “transgenic” technology allows breeders to insert genes from different organisms into the corn plant. For example, if one discovers arctic plants with genes that allow them to survive subfreezing temperatures, geneticists may be able to isolate the genes responsible for these traits and insert them into the corn genome.