In September’s American Agriculturist, my column was titled “On cusp of feed, food panic?” I pointed out some concerns related to the current drought. And those concerns are still valid.
But here, I’m going to yield to the excellent thought of another seasoned writer and former Canadian diplomat. Maurice Hladik, author of Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork, has a superb perspective on the benefits of today’s technologies.
Hladik says: “If farmers in 2012 had to rely on the technologies they were using in (the two comparable droughts of) 1956 or 1988, the results would have been devastating.”
For example, 2012 corn crop projections by USDA melted from 146 bushels per acre to 128 bushels, according to recent estimates. That’s almost a 2-billion-bushel drop. Yet, he points out that a 128-bushel average would still be the fifth largest corn harvest on record and would have been an excellent yield only a decade ago. That’s still triple the 42-bushel average corn yield of 1956.
So, why the huge per-acre increase?
One reason is that the corn plant has been reengineered. It thrives in denser plantings. Its roots make more efficient use of available moisture and nutrients. Even its leaves better optimize sun energy.
Yes, genetic modification has had much to do with such bounty, affirms Hladik. Companies such as Syngenta, Monsanto and DuPont have designed corn, soybeans, canola and other crops to control weeds with less chemicals and minimal cultivation. European corn borer is much closer to being a pest of the past thanks to advanced plant breeding. Precision placement technologies have substantially reduced chemical and fertilizer applications required to produce a bushel of grain.
Had technology and improved farming practices not come into play, contends Hladik, yields of only a couple decades ago would now be causing incredible food security issues for the less prosperous. The Food Stamp Program would be swamped with increases in both the numbers supported and the cost per person facing food insecurity.
Consider the mother of all droughts
The multi-year drought of the 1930s shriveled corn yields to slightly more than a measly 20 bushels per acre. And interestingly, to feed the nation, about 20 million more acres of corn were planted back then compared to the last five years.
Some argue that modern farming has led to the lack of biodiversity. Hladik suggests that isn’t necessarily the case. He's right. In fact, we're constantly importing new genetics from ancient plants with new potentials. Thanks to advanced agriculture technologies, less land is actually required to feed a lot more people than in days gone by.
Others lament that agriculture has moved on from its bucolic past. “Bucolic” is a relative and subjective term that has no place in reality.
We all need to remind consumers that the prime objective of farming community is to feed the world. Adoption of advanced farming technologies is the only way for that to happen.
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