How Agriculture Will Feed a Growing Global Population

January 9, 2019

How Agriculture Will Feed a Growing Global Population

As you have likely heard by now, the global population is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050 which will increase the demand for greater agricultural productivity to feed the massive population and require greater conservation of arable lands to offset the negative climate impacts of the growing population. Historically, new technologies have enabled the agricultural industry to adapt to the demand for greater productivity and fortunately, agriculture innovation continues to support growers in their efforts to produce higher yields in a more profitable and sustainable manner. But, before we get to the future, let’s review one technology of the past, plant growth regulators. Developed in the past century, natural and synthetic plant growth regulators, have been used as a part of the process to enhance crop productivity and quality.

What are Plant Growth Regulators?

Agriculture and Plant Growth RegulatorsPlant growth regulators (PGR), often referred to as plant hormones, are natural or synthetic substances that are used to alter the growth and/or physiological processes of a plant. They do so by acting as “chemical messengers for intercellular communication” within the plants they are applied to, according to the Plant & Soil Sciences eLibrary.

PGRs are either sprayed onto the plant or applied to the plant or its seed. They are transported throughout the plant via vascular tissues called xylem and phloem and then released at the target cells. They can also move between cells through plasmodesmata, which are microscopic channels that create pathways between cell walls.

A natural PGR is produced by the plant itself, while ‘synthetic’ ones are created in a lab.

The 5 Families of Plant Growth Regulators

PGRs are categorized into five main groups—auxins, gibberellins, cytokinins, abscisic acid, and ethylene. PGRs alter plants in different ways depending on which group they belong to.


Cells tend to grow more rapidly in areas where auxins are highly concentrated—typically the shoot and root tips. These PGRs promote cell elongation and affect rooting processes, tropic responses, and bud development. They travel down from the growing tip to inhibit lateral growth and maintain apical dominance, in which the central stem of a plant in stronger than its branches.


Cytokinins regulate plant growth and development by promoting cell division, known as cytokinesis, and affecting morphogenesis, the biological process that controls the development of a plant’s shape. They are naturally produced in the roots and move up through the xylem, a transport tissue in vascular plants, to promote lateral growth. Auxins and cytokinins pair together to strike a balance between the growth of the central stem and lateral branches.


Gibberellins mainly function to promote stem elongation and stimulate flowering, though they affect other processes like adventitious root growth. Though there are over 80 different members of the gibberellin family, only gibberellic acid (GA3) and GA4+7 are used in plant tissue culture.

Abscisic Acid

Abscisic Acid (ABA) regulates seed germination and plays a significant role in somatic embryogenesis, in which a plant or embryo is artificially derived from a single somatic cell or group of somatic cells. Additionally, when a plant is exposed to drought, freezing, or environmental pollutants, it will produce more ABA to regulate the plant’s reaction to water stress and encourage higher levels of absorption from the surrounding soil.


Known as the aging and/or ripening hormone, ethylene is not required for normal vegetative growth. It can, however, affect the development of root and shoots and is widely used for commercial purposes, specifically to speed up fruit ripening.

Plant Growth Regulators and Agriculture

Most of the PGRs used in commercial agriculture, including the sale of nursery stock, are produced in a lab, meaning they are synthetic. They can either stimulate or inhibit different kinds of growth in plants, giving farmers more control over how their crops grow and what they yield.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), PGRs would induce results like “increased blossom set, stimulation of root or plant growth, prevention of sucker growth, delayed onset of sprouting of harvested root crops, abscission stimulation of fruit crops, stimulateed plant growth and fruiting, fruit and seed development, increased stem and stalk strength, and increased fruit size.” These kinds of results show that PGR use intends to alter a plant’s development past standard nutrition, which can help commercial agribusiness increase crop yield, quality, and revenue.

Though artificial PGRs are used widely in commercial agriculture, naturally occurring PGRs are also important in maintaining crop productivity. Many PGRs are plant hormones, meaning they are synthesized in one part of the plant and triggers a physiological response somewhere within that plant. Gibberellic acid, for instance, is a naturally occurring plant hormone that promotes cell growth found in growing plant tissues like shoots, young leaves, and flowers.

Future Technologies Pushing Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability Forward

Sustainability with Plant Growth RegulatorsExciting developments in Ag Tech are providing growers with additional tools to enhance the productivity and sustainability of the operations. From drones to GPS mapping to sensors and robotics, a plethora of hardware and software developments are enabling growers to be more efficient.

Just as exciting, new research and scientific understanding of our soil ecosystem has spurred the development of carbon-based soil amendments, like Cool Terra, that work to improve soil health. Soil carbon has a direct correlation with soil quality and therefore plays an integral role in the overall productivity of farmland and the quality of crops produced on that land.

Cool Terra is a fixed carbon soil amendment that is applied directly to the root zone to build lasting soil structure, optimize water and nutrient retention in the root zone, provide a beneficial environment for soil microbes, and sequester carbon. To understand how Cool Terra works, think of a coral reef in the ocean. Just like a coral reef provides resources, habitat, and structure in an otherwise barren ocean floor, Cool Terra enhances water and nutrient exchange in the root zone, provides habitat for soil microbiology, and works like a sponge to build lasting soil structure. On top of all that, Cool Terra sequesters carbon and provides conservation agriculture benefits to growers and society.

In the past, new technologies for increased productivity have focused on the plant, but now new technologies are being developed to optimize the natural growing environment surrounding the plant. The soil is the basic resource in agricultural and is the central element for productivity and sustainability. The soil is not just a medium for growing and should not be considered merely a substance to hold inputs, like PGRs. Instead, by viewing soil as the foundation of productivity and improving key soil performance characteristics by optimizing the carbon levels in the soil, building soil structure, providing habitat for microbes, and more, agricultural efficiencies can continue to improve to feed the growing population and perform in an even more sustainable manner.

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