The largest drought in 50 years has severely damaged much of the nation's "corn belt" and is threatening the viability of Minnesota's 2012 corn crop.
While an extreme, this summer's condition is a reminder of a larger challenge facing agriculture – to use limited resources like water in an effective and sustainable manner.
R. Ford Denison, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, seeks to address these challenges through the dual prism of science and nature in his new book, "Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture."
"The need to produce a higher yield is continually growing, yet natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce," says Denison. "Improving crop genetics – and avoiding costly dead ends in the process – is paramount to the long term sustainability of agriculture. This requires a comprehensive approach, one that incorporates the lessons of nature when applying modern science."
Linking evolution to agriculture was natural for Denison, who researches evolutionary biology in the university's College of Biological Sciences and helps to plan long-term field research for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. He discusses how both biotechnology and traditional plant breeding can – and should – benefit from considering past evolutionary improvements in traits like drought tolerance when identifying promising routes for further genetic improvement.