Glossary

A B C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


A

Acetanilide  - The active ingredient in a class of selective herbicides used predominantly in corn. Acetanilides are pre-emergent herbicides; pre-emergent herbicides are applied to prevent the germination of weeds.

Adaptation - Changes in an organism's structure or habits that help it adjust to its surroundings

Adventitious Presence - In modern plant biotechnology, adventitious presence refers to the unintended, trace levels of traits developed through modern plant biotechnology in seed, grain, or feed and food products. 

Agrobacterium Tumefaciens- A genus of bacteria that researchers can use to transfer DNA to plants.  Agrobacterium tumefaciens can infect plants and cause crown gall disease – a tumerous growth at the base of plants.  The DNA transfer occurs naturally during the crown gall disease, and can be used as a method of transformation.

Agronomics - Agronomic practices are steps farmers incorporate into their farm management systems to improve soil quality, enhance water use, manage crop residue and improve the environment through better fertilizer management. These steps not only improve a farmer’s bottom line by decreasing input costs, but also improve the environment by decreasing water use and over-fertilization. Agronomic practices encompass many areas of conservation from practicing reduced-tillage methods

B

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) - A naturally occurring bacterium present in soil and used successfully by home gardeners and organic farmers to control certain insects for more than 40 years.  When ingested by a target insect, the protein produced by Bt destroys the insect by disturbing the digestive system.  The Bt protein is harmless to other insects, people and animals.

Biodiesel - Renewable fuel created by combining methanol or ethanol (the base) with vegetable oil, such as canola or soybean oil, of animal fat. It can be used in any diesel engine, either by itself or blended with petroleum diesel.

Biodiversity - The word – a contraction of ‘biological diversity’ – refers to the number, variety and variability of living organisms.  It encompasses three basic levels of organization in living systems:  the genetic, species and ecosystem levels.  Plant and animal species are the most commonly recognized units of biodiversity.

Biofertilizers - Microorganisms that increase the amount of nutrients available to plants.

Biofuel - Any fuel derived from an organic material that is not fossilized like coal or petroleum. Common sources of biofuel grown for the U.S. and European markets are corn, soybeans, flaxseed and rapeseed. Biofuel can appear in solid, liquid, or gas form.

Biomass - Organic, non-fossil material available on a renewable basis. Biomass includes all biological organisms, dead or alive, and their metabolic by-products that haven't been transformed by geological processes into substances such a coal or petroleum.

Biopesticides - Microorganisms that increase the amount of nutrients available to plants.

Biosphere - That part of a planet's outer shell -- including air, land, and water -- within which life occurs, and which biotic processes alter or transform.

Biotechnology - A broad term used to describe any technique that uses living organisms or parts of organisms to solve problems or develop new products.  Biotechnology is used in a wide range of applications including the production of foods and medicines, testing for disease, removing wastes in the environment, and improving agricultural plants.  Modern biotechnology includes the tools of genetic engineering, although it is only one of many applications. See Plant Biotechnology

Biotech Crop - A crop grown from seed that has been modified using biotechnology. Often biotech crops provide benefits through reduced need for plowing soil, reduction in pesticides, and added crop qualities and vigor.

Breeding - See Plant Breeding

Bt crops - Crops that are genetically engineered to carry a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The bacterium produces proteins that are toxic to target pests but non-toxic to humans and other mammals. Crops containing the Bt gene are able to produce this toxin, thereby providing protection for the plant. 

C

Carbon (or climate) neutral - When activities that reduce or capture carbon are paired successfully with those that produce it, they are said to be carbon neutral or climate neutral.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)  - A colorless, odorless, unreactive gas that is a normal part of the atmosphere.  It is produced during the combustion of fossil fuels when the carbon in the fuels reacts with oxygen.  It is also produced when living organisms respire.  It is essential for plant nutrition.  While relatively innocuous in itself, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere and contribute to Global Warming.

Carbon footprint - The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly and indirectly to support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide.

Chromosome - Tightly coiled strands of genes (DNA) located in the nucleus of every cell that determines the inheritance of traits.  Each chromosome has a fixed number of genes, and every species has a characteristic number of chromosome pairs – humans have 23 pairs, mice have 19 and pea plants have 7. 

Climate change - Any long-term significant change in the "average weather" that a given region experiences. Average weather may include average temperature, precipitation and wind patterns. It involves changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere over durations ranging from decades to millions of years. (see also Global Warming)

Conservation tillage - Crop production methods that de-emphasize use of the plow for weed removal and encompass a range of new farming production practices like reduced tillage, or no tillage. In general, these methods all include reduced use of the plow and increased use of crop mulch and cover on the fields.

Conventional Crop - A non-biotech hybrid or inbred crop grown with inputs, such as fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides.

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) - A business outlook that acknowledges responsibilities to stakeholders -- including suppliers, customers, and employees as well we local and international communities in which it operates -- and the natural environment.

D

Diversity - In nature, a source of ecosystem strength since failures are unlikely to eliminate all species. Therefore, the ecosystem will recover in some form and continue.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) - A complex molecule that contains, in chemically coded form, all the information needed to build, control and maintain a living organism.  DNA is a ladder-like double-stranded nucleic acid that forms the basis of genetic inheritance in all organisms except for a few viruses.  In organisms other than bacteria, it is organized into chromosomes and contained in the cell nucleus.

Double cropping - Consecutively producing two crops that are either the same or of different varieties on the same land in a single year.

E

Ecological footprint - A term to describe the total ecological impact (the amount of land, food, water, and other resources needed) to sustain a person or organization. This is usually measured in acres or hectares of productive land. It is used to determine relative consumption.

Ecology - A science that studies the Earth and its systems, including the interrelationships of all living things and all element of their environment. The science was further developed from the work of Ernest Haeckel when investigating 'the study of living things within their environmental context.'

Ecosystem - A dynamic and interdependent living community of people, parts or mechanisms that interact with one another. The term was coined by Arthur Tansley, a British Ecologist, who said that "ecosystems have the capacity to respond to change without altering the basic characteristics of the system."

Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) - A universal indicator that integrates the various environmental impacts of individual pesticides into a single field value per acre (hectare).  EIQ incorporates the impact of the key toxicity and environmental exposure data on farm workers, consumers and ecology, providing a consistent and comprehensive measure of the non-intentional impact of different pesticides on the environment.  EIQ is not universally accepted and is an indicator only; it does not take into account all environmental issues and impacts.

Erosion - A process by which rock particles and soil are detached from their original site, transported and deposited in a new location.  The main agents of erosion are water and wind.

Extension (Agricultural - Agricultural extension is the function of providing need- and demand-based knowledge in agronomic techniques and skills to rural communities in a systematic, participatory manner, with the objective of improving their production, income and (by implication) quality of life. Extension is essentially education and it aims at bringing about positive behavioral changes among farmers.

F

Farm inputs - The resources that are used (e.g. seeds, chemicals, equipment) in farm production.

Feed - A mixture or preparation of food for feeding livestock.

Fertigation - The application of fertilizers, soil amendments, or other water-soluble products through an irrigation system.

FFA - Formally Future Farmers of America, The National FFA Organization is an organization focused on helping to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population. It also helps helping them explore their interests in a broad range of career pathways.

Field trial - A test of a new technology or variety, including biotech-derived varieties, done outside the laboratory but with specific limitations and requirements on location, plot size, methodology, etc.

Food security - Having access at all times to ample food for leading a healthy and active life.

G

Gene - A specific segment of DNA in a chromosome that produces a specific product or has an assigned

Genetic modification (genetic engineering) - The technique of removing, modifying or adding genes to a living organism via genetic engineering or other more traditional methods.  Also referred to as gene splicing, recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology or genetic engineering.

Genetically engineered organism (GEO) - See genetically modified organism (GMO).

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism that shows a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism.

Genetics - The study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits.

Genome  - All the genetic material in all the chromosomes of a particular organism.  It is the master blueprint for the total set of an organism’s genes.

Genomics - The science that identifies crop traits and accelerate plant breeding. It is one of the tools used to "mine" germplasm, finding the best combinations of characteristics that can be bred or introduced into plants for better products. Genomics allows the "mapping" of a plant's genes to understand its structure and the role it plays in the plant's function.

Genotyping - This is the process of determining the genes (genotype) of an individual by examining the individual's DNA sequence by using biological assays.

Germplasm - The basic genetic material for any plant, used to develop new seed varieties. Within the germplasm are the basic characteristics that make plants what they are.

Global warming - An aspect of climate change, it is the gradual, average increase of temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Global warming is accelerated by the greenhouse gases expelled into the atmosphere from man-made sources.

Glyphosate - The active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. Roundup is a post-emergent herbicide, and is the world's leading nonselective herbicide brand, used primarily in agricultural settings.

Glyphosate tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops – A common herbicide-tolerant crop, which provide tolerance to glyphosate, an herbicide effective on many species of grasses, broadleaf weeds and sedges.  Roundup Ready crops (cotton, corn, soybeans, and canola) contain the Roundup Ready gene, which allows glyphosate to be applied to the crop to provide effective weed control without damaging the crop itself.

Green - A common metaphor referring to environmental association based on the shared secondary color of many plants. It is often used to associate products, organizations, political parties, or policies with environmental sensitivity.

Greenhouse effect  -  Process whereby greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere cause heat to be trapped in the atmosphere rather than escaping into space.  The greenhouse gases form an insulating blanket around the planet.  This blanket allows light and heat from the sun through, but prevents some of the heat, which radiates back from the earth from escaping.  The same effect occurs in greenhouses, hence the name.  The effect is natural and vital to current life forms on earth.  Without it, the planet would be frozen. 

Greenhouse Gas - Gases produced from human activities that trap solar radiation and thus contribute to climate change and the destruction of the ozone layer. These include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and Hyrdofluorocarbons (HFCs).

H

Habitat - The area in which a given population lives, which is distinguished by its physical features and/or main plants.

Hectare - A unit of surface, or land, measure equal to 100 ares, or 10,000 square meters: equivalent to 2.471 acres.

Herbicide - A substance used to kill plants, especially weeds.

Herbicide-tolerant crops - Crops that have been developed to survive application(s) of particular herbicides by the incorporation of certain gene(s) either through genetic engineering or traditional breeding methods. The genes allow the herbicides to be applied to the crop to provide effective weed control without damaging the crop itself.

Hybrid - A plant that is heterogeneous; the offspring of two plants of the same species but different varieties.

I

Infiltration - The downward movement of water into soil. The higher the infiltration rate, the higher level of moisture in the soil for crops.

Input - Resources used in agriculture to produce a crop, including seed, fertilizer, herbicide, and insecticide.

Insecticide - A substance used to control certain populations of insect pests.  In agriculture, insecticides are used to control insect pests that feed on crops or carry plant disease.

Insect-resistant crops - Plants with the ability to withstand, deter or repel insects and thereby prevent them from feeding on the plant. The traits (genes) determining resistance may be selected by plant breeders through cross-pollination with other varieties of this crop or through the introduction of novel genes such as Bt genes through genetic engineering.

Invasive species - An alien species of animals, plants or pests that, when introduced, will likely produce harm to the environment and/or human health.

Irrigation - Irrigation is an artificial application of water to the soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and re-vegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall.

L

Land treatment - Any project that both enhances production and improves the conservation of natural resources such as water and soil.

Land trust - A nonprofit 501 (c)3 organization that may receive donations of money, property or development rights. These organizations may use their assets to purchase property or development rights.

Leaching - Leaching refers to the loss of water-soluble plant nutrients from the soil, due to rain and irrigation.

Legumes  - A family of plants, including many valuable food, forage and cover species, such as peas, beans, soybeans, peanuts, alfalfas, sweet clovers, and kudzu. Legumes are an important rotation crop because of their nitrogen-fixing property.

Low-flow irrigation system - These systems-- which include drip, trickle, and micro sprinklers-- provide water in small volumes and generally provide water to plants with less waste than furrow irrigation.

Low-input sustainable agriculture (LISA) - A collection of agricultural methods such as crop rotation that lessen the need for farmers to apply fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

M

Marginal / Small Holder Farmer - This term, including similar terms such as “resource-poor” and “subsistence farmers,” refers to a farmer who grows just enough food for his family's own needs with little, if anything, left over to sell.

Marker genes - Genes coding for particular traits that allow a microorganism to be tracked.

Marker-assisted breeding (also Molecular Breeding) - An enhanced tool that involves the use of DNA markers for genes in combination with physical measurement of traits to accelerate selection in plant breeding programs. Also called molecular breeding.

Molecular breeding - See Marker-assisted breeding

N

No-till farming - A method of farming that eliminates plowing to prepare the land for planting seeds and weed control.  Instead, crop residue is left on fields, and seed and nutrients are placed in narrow rows or in drilled holes.  Weed control is accomplished with suitable herbicides.  Because the soil is not disturbed or exposed through plowing, it is much less susceptible to erosion from both water and wind.

O

Organic (Chemical) - A compound containing carbon bound to hydrogen.

Organic (Food and Agriculture) - Organic is a term used to describe products or processes that are developed without the use of 'man-made' or synthetic products or processes. In organic farming natural fertilizers, cultivation methods, and pesticides derived from natural sources are used as an alternative to synthetic chemicals.

Overshoot - The amount that any value exceeds its intended measure. In sustainability terms, overshoot is often the amount a variable (such as a measure of environmental impact) exceeds what is thought to be acceptable. Overshoots can be positive but are usually used to convey negative impacts of activity.

P

Patent – A license, issued by the government, granting the patent holder rights to a process, design, or new invention for a designated period of time. Since the passage of the Plant Patent Act of 1930, it has been possible to patent to control new varieties of plants in the United States.

Pesticide - A substance used pests, such as harmful insects, weeds or microorganisms.

Pest-resistant crops - Plants with the ability to withstand, deter or repel pests and thereby prevent them from damaging the plants. Plant pests may include insects, nematodes, fungi, viruses, bacteria, and weeds, among others.

Phytostimulators - Microorganisms that stimulate plant growth through the production of compounds such as hormones.

Plant Biotechnology - Plant biotechnology allows for the transfer of a greater variety of genetic information in a more precise, controlled manner. It allows for the transfer of one, or a few, genes that can introduce traits such as better insect and weed control.

Plant breeding - The act of bringing together two specific parent plants to produce a new offspring plant.  Plant breeders use cross-pollination, selection and other techniques to produce plant varieties with particular desired characteristics (genes) that can be passed on to future plant generations.

Plant pests - Organisms that may directly or indirectly cause disease, spoilage or damage to plants, plant parts or processed plant materials. Common examples include certain insects, mites, nematodes, fungi, molds, viruses and bacteria.

Plant Rooting Zone - This is the entire area where roots are growing below the plant. Root zones are important for future plantings.

Plow - A tool used in farming for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting.

Post-emergent herbicide - A herbicide that controls weeds after they emerge from the ground.

Pre-emergent herbicide - A herbicide that controls weeds before they emerge from the ground.

Protein - A molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order. Proteins are required for the structure, function and regulation of an organism's cells and tissues, and each protein has a unique function.

Q

Quarantine - A restraint on importation of certain animals or plants from areas where pests or contagious diseases are endemic - or isolation of animals or plants suspected of carrying pests or diseases - to prevent the spread of those pests and diseases.

R

Recombinant DNA (rDNA) - Procedures used to join DNA segments in a cell-free system (e.g. in a test tube outside living cells or organisms). Under appropriate conditions, a recombinant DNA molecule can be introduced into a cell and copy itself (replicate), either as an independent entity (autonomously) or as an integral part of a cellular chromosome.

Reduced Tillage – A method of farming that reduces plowing to prepare the land for planting seeds and weed control.  In reduced tillage typically 15%-30% of the previous crop residue is left on fields.

Renewable - Any material or energy that can be replenished in full without loss or degradation in quality

S

Seed Chipping - Seed chipping is technology that allows the analysis of each seed before planting and advancement of only seeds with product potential.

Seed Drill - A seed drill is a sowing device that precisely positions seeds in the soil and then covers them.

Seed Production - The process of growing crops to be sold as seed, instead of growing crops to sell as food or feed. Because each seed will become a crop plant, seed production requires high standards for quality and germination.

Seeding Rates - The amount of seeding material released per unit time, per unit distance traveled, or per amount of air.

Selective breeding - Making deliberate crosses or matings of organisms so the offspring will have particular desired characteristics derived from one or both of the parents.

Solar energy - Direct radiant energy from the sun. It also includes indirect forms of energy such as wind, falling or flowing water (hydropower), ocean thermal gradients, and biomass, which are produced when direct solar energy interact with the earth.

Soil Profile - The vertical display of soil horizons or layers.

Stacking – See trait stacking

Stewardship - Responsible caretaking; based on the premise that we do not own resources but only manage them, and are responsible to future generations for their condition.

Subsistence - The means of living; obtaining food and shelter necessary to support life; everything that is done to "make a living."

Subsistence farmer - A farmer who grows just enough food for his family's own needs with little, if anything, left over to sell.

Substantial Equivalence - Substantial equivalence means that a GM crop has similar components and nutritional characteristics as its conventional (non-GM) counterpart. Specifically that the range of concentrations for components and nutritional characteristics of the GM crop falls within the typical range for the non-GM counterpart. Substantial equivalence is accepted and utilized by most regulatory agencies worldwide.

Sustainability - Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable agriculture- Farming methods that allow the production of crops or livestock without damage to the farm as an ecosystem, including effects on soil, water supplies, biodiversity or other surrounding natural resources. The concept of sustainable agriculture is an "intergenerational" one in which we pass on a conserved or improved natural resource base instead of one which has been depleted or polluted.

Sustainable development - A pattern of resource use that seeks to meet human needs while preserving the natural environment so these needs can be met in the present and in the indefinite future.

Sustainable management - The ability to direct the course of a company, community, organization, country or any activity that restore and enhance all forms of capital (human, natural, manufactured, and financial) to generate stakeholder value and contribute to the well- being of current and future generations.

T

Tillage - Cultivation, including hoeing and plowing. In agriculture, tillage is used to fight weeds.

Traditional breeding - Modification of plants and animals through selective breeding.  Practices used in traditional plant breeding may include aspects of biotechnology such as tissue culture and mutational breeding (mutagenesis).

Trait - An important characteristic of a crop (such as drought tolerance or insect resistance) that is determined by a specific gene or set of genes.

Trait stacking - The combination or "stacking" of traits allows the farmer to have the value of multiple traits, instead of having to choose between them. Within each respective crop, farmers can choose to combine different traits in a single seed, including insect-protection and herbicide tolerance. These product offerings are commonly referred to as "stacked" traits.

Transgene - A gene from one organism inserted into another organism by recombinant DNA techniques.

Transgenic organism - A plant, animal, bacterium or other living organism, which has had one or more transgenes added to it by means of genetic engineering.

U

Upland cotton - The most common variety of cotton grown in the United States.

 

V

Value-added products - Products that have increased in value because of processing, including wheat flour and soybean oil.

Variety - A group of individual plants that is uniform, stable and distinct genetically from other groups of individuals in the same species.

W

Watershed - The area that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or even the ocean.

Wetlands - Areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, and bogs.

X

Xeriscaping - Landscaping based on native, water-efficient plants to minimize the need for irrigation.

Y

Yield - The number of bushels (or pounds or hundredweight) that a farmer harvests per acre.

Z

Zero waste - The goal of developing products and services, managing their use and deployment, and creating recycling systems and markets to eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, and to conserve and recover all resources.