EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 35 advise the European Commission on the issue of sustainable increasing crop production. So, we will be dependent on what the Commission exactly will do with the roadmap. But in case politics decides to follow and execute the roadmap, then I am convinced the benefits for society and thus also for European consumers will be major as it will significantly contribute to sustainably secure future food production and -availability. And of course, also the effects of the proposed research in aiding the transition from a fossil economy to a bio-based economy will have a profound impact on society. These beneficial effects will only be tangible to European consumers in the mid or far future as the roadmap itself has a focus on 2050. However, also on the short term there will be a clear benefit for consumers as we will develop the roadmap in close collaboration with them. Through our stakeholder group and also via our workshops, European consumers will have a clear voice in developing the roadmap towards a more sustain- able future, and I really look forwards to the cooperation with consumers, farmers, and NGO’s in CropBooster-P. ES: DOUBLING THE EUROPEAN CROP YIELD BY 2050 IS A VERY AMBITIOUS TARGET. IS IT AT ALL FEASIBLE? RKL: The clear answer is yes, scientifically and technically this is feasible. But I have to add immediately that reaching this goal not only will depend on the development of high-yielding, future-proof crop varieties, but also a lot of other factors will be decisive. For instance, we will need the political will to embark on a massive European research endeavour to develop these crops which will take at least 10 years at a budget of several hundred million euro, maybe even exceeding 1 billion euro. Then of course, these novel crops will have to be grown on a large scale which probably will also require adaptations in the entire food production chain, from seed producers via farmers and food producers to end users. This will be an extreme challenge to organize, requiring again a lot of political will and the coopera- tion of the entire chain. But regarding the science behind it, we know already that we can develop these high yielding crops and the core process that we need to optimize for this is plant photosynthesis. In agriculture, the efficiency of photosynthesis is embarrassingly low as only on average 0.5 - 1% of the incoming solar energy is converted into crop biomass. However, we know that in theory plant photosynthesis could reach efficiencies of approximately 4% and in nature, we do find plants which indeed exhibit such an extremely high photosynthetic efficiency. If you take into account that there is a linear relationship between crop yield and photosynthetic efficiency, it follows that if we would increase the photosynthetic efficiency in crop plants to 1 – 2%, we imme- diately would double crop yield! And further good news is that we already have proof of principle that this indeed works as the first scientific publications, also authored by some of our part- ners in CropBooster-P, have shown a dramatic yield increase in plants resulting from optimizing specific sub-processes of photosynthesis. Of course, a lot more will have to be done, as you also want these superior yielding crop varieties to be resource use efficient making optimal use of scarce resources like water and minerals. In addition, climate change already is here, so the future crops should be made very resilient and able to withstand for instance increased drought, heat and salt stress. But also, here ample sci- entific evidence is present that we indeed can make crop plants more resource use efficient and climate-proof. So, taken together, we know that it will be feasible to develop the plant varieties needed to double European crop yield. ES: MANY PEOPLE FEEL THAT WE WOULD BE ABLE TO SPEED UP THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW VARIETIES THAT ARE PREPARED FOR CLIMATE CHANGE, WITH THE HELP OF PLANT BREEDING INNOVATION TECHNOLOGIES, SUCH AS CRISPR. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THIS? RKL: Personally, I am a great fan of new breeding technology like CRISPR-CAS because it can increase efficiency of plant breeding for specific characteristics. When using technology like CRISPR- CAS introducing a novel trait into a crop plant and developing a novel variety will only take five years or so. Whereas with tra- ditional breeding technologies this might take up to 15 years. And remember, what we propose to do is not simply changing one or two plant traits, but we propose to adapt and fine-tune a great number of traits. In order to do this within the limited time frame of 10 to 20 years that we have available, we really need the most effective plant breeding tools available to ensure that these improved crops are broadly available to farmers by 2050. Probably most of the traits that we will need to optimize also can be improved using current breeding practices. The problem however is that we then never will meet the deadline of 2050 and it might take easily till the end of this century before the improved crops reach the market. But having said this, I also realise that in case society really does not want these novel technologies and thus current EU regulations do not change than it won’t happen. So, what we will do in CropBooster-P is to start a broad dialogue with society and with policy makers to explain what we are proposing to do, and also why we think we need novel technologies are absolutely required to reach our goals in time. By doing this, we will par- ticipate in the current discussions with society on the existing concerns around using novel breeding technology, but we will also clearly explain what the consequences for society will be of NOT using these technologies. And of course, the novel breeding technologies will also be a topic of the Citizen Jury we plan to organize by the end of the project. The outcome of this event will be included in our roadmap and thus in our advice to the European Commission. ES: HOW IS THE PRIVATE SEED SECTOR IN EUROPE GOING TO BE INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT, AND HOW CAN THEY CONTRIBUTE? RKL: The European Seed Association is a full partner in CropBooster-P which guarantees a firm link between our project and the private seed sector. In addition, our stakeholder group will include representatives from industry. And last but not least, we will organize a number of workshops like our Business Expert Focus Groups and our Communication Workshop with Industry were also the seed industry will be invited to participate. So, I think CropBooster-P offers a lot of opportunities for industry to participate, and I expect a fruitful cooperation also with the seed industry the years to come. Editor’s Note: René Klein Lankhorst is Program Developer at Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands and Coordinator of the CropBooster-P project. To develop high yielding crops, the core process to optimize is plant photosynthesis.