On a global level, climate change could be one of the biggest challenges to the Canadian agricultural industry. Crops need to withstand those extremes. We’re studying drought tolerance, cold tolerance and heat tolerance in order to improve the yield of crops in the future.

We need to adjust to producing more crops on the same amount of land or less. This is caused by erosion and the reduced amount of available land and water, so new plants may need to survive with less water. It may not be a big problem in Canada right now, but in countries like India where many farms use irrigation, the amount of water underneath the soil is decreasing. If that continues, India will not be able to use irrigation, which would create tremendous issue for producing food, leading to an increased reliance on imports from countries like Canada.

We’ll likely face all of these challenges in the future. We can address them by understanding plants and investing more research and development in crops. I believe this will be an important area for students in the future because the demand for food is not slowing down.

On a global level, climate change could be one of the biggest challenges to the Canadian agricultural industry.

Moving forward, I can see genetic editing being an exciting field with regards to education and employment. We now have the technology to change a single nucleotide of a species or plant. And that’s actually what nature would do, because natural mutation happens all the time at a specific frequency; now we can make these kinds of changes in the lab. We have no choice if we want to meet the challenges of the growing population in the future—we have to use these new tools. Otherwise, we may not be able to maintain the food production we need in 15-20 years.

To pursue a career in agricultural research, important areas of study are biotechnology, genomics, breeding, and agronomy. Within biotechnology, one emerging area for talent is bioinformatics, which is the combination of biology and information technology. There are technologies where we can do a DNA sequencing of wheat, but the challenge is the interpretation and use of that information. Bioinformaticians will assist biologists and breeders understand the genome through processing the information and data.

About the author

Faouzi Bekkaoui

Faouzi Bekkaoui is the executive director of the National Research Council Canada’s Wheat Improvement program, aiming to improve the yield of wheat for the benefit of Canadian farmers and economy. Educated in France, he received a Bachelor’s degree in biology focusing on physiology, followed by a PhD in plant physiology.