Is the Variety of Food Crops "Dwindling"?

This infographic, titled "Our Dwindling Food Variety," from the August National Geographic looks pretty dire, no?:

But before you start stockpiling muskmelon seeds against inevitable genetic calamity, check out this study by Paul Heald and Susannah Chapman (highlighted by Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy) which starts with the same data from 1903, but finds that crop diversity hasn't dwindled at all. The comparison between commercial seed catalogs in 1903 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-run National Seed Storage Laboratory is not, as Adler punnily notes, an apples-to-apples comparison. In fact: 

According to the conventional wisdom, the twentieth century was a disaster of monumental proportions for vegetable crop diversity. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Our study of 2004 commercial seed catalogs shows twice as many 1903 crop varieties surviving as previously reported in the iconic 1983 study on vegetable crop diversity. More important, we find that growers in 2004 had as many varieties to choose from (approximately 7100 varieties among 48 crops) as did their predecessors in 1903 (approximately 7262 varieties among the same 48 crops).  

More on misunderstandings about genetic diversity here

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  • Pip||

    Well just how many fucking types of beets do you need?

  • Pip||

    Besides, this is an apples to oranges comparison. Commercial seed houses =/= National Seed Bank.

  • Pip||

    Or more accurately, the National Seed Storage Labratory.

  • Pip||

    Reason should just take this BS Post down.

    List of Sweetcorn Varieties (~135):

  • Edwin||

    yeah this is really stupid what they're saying. There are a million people here or there that offer for sale various rare varieties or just keep the lineages on their own. Anyone who has ever food-gardened could tell you that.

  • Pip||

    That's why I knew this was bougus on its face.

    I have a garden with over 140 varieties of fruits, herbs and vegetables. My grandparents would never even of heard of Daikon and I grow three kinds.

  • Pip||

    That's the British spelling of bogus, BTW.

  • Xenocles||

    What nationality spells "have" "of?"

  • What kind....||

    ....have question is that for a publicly schooled student?

  • Edwin||

    holy shit, really?

    where the fuck do you find the time? I've decided to quit gardening after this season. It's so time-consuming. All the damn weeding

    is it faster if you use a tiller to weed? Is that what they do with "rows" - they just till in between the rows as a way to weed, and then you only need to hand weed the few things that happen to make it between the plants?
    I only hjave a small plot so rows aren't an option for me.

  • Zeb||

    A few inches of mulch (or black plastic over the beds) helps a lot with the weeds, and makes it so you have to water less too.

  • Pip||

    I have a hand-held cultivator that used to be my grandma's. It works like magic. In fact, I only weed about 3 times a year. And I don't plant huge rows of anything. It's more like 6 feet of Genovese basil, 3 feet of fennel, etc.

    However, as I get older I do find it's beginning to be more of a chore.

    But I will tell you this, the ladies do love going into the garden to pick the vegetables that will be going into their lunch that I'll be making.

  • Pip||

    Picture this on a 5 foot rake handle:$(KGrHqR,!i4E2Kv(tE,DBNvY5neikQ~~_35.JPG

  • Pip||

  • Pip||

  • Pip||


  • ||

    [shakes head, goes back to looming]

  • ||

    I only weed about 3 times a year


  • ||

    Who fucking cares how "diverse" the crop varieties are? Jesus Tapdancing Christ, people will do anything to shout gloom and doom. It's a sickness.

  • yonemoto||

    buy your non-hybrid seeds to prepare for the coming financial apocalypse!

  • Zeb||

    There are a few reasons to care. But not usually until all of a particular crop is practically genetically identical, as is the case with most bananas now. Genetic diversity is good for maintaining disease resistance. Fortunately, except for a few cases like bananas, the gloom and doom crowd is just wrong. It really is amazing and depressing how gleeful so many people are about telling everyone how fucked they are. A sickness indeed.

  • Pip||

    And with Geneitically Modified Crops, the possibilities are endless.

  • Zeb||


  • robc||

    Its not even true with bananas. You can find non-Cavendish varieties.

  • Zeb||

    They exist, but not in large scale commercial cultivation. The difficulty, as I understand it, is in finding varieties that transport well and are acceptable to the American and European pallet.

  • yonemoto||

    the hipster crowd is teaching us to like plantains. It's the only thing they're really useful for.

  • yonemoto||

    I love telling people that the economy is going to crash*. Is that depressing?

    *It's because I'm sitting on double-short positions, finally pulled a profit this week!

  • You Too||

    people will do anything to shout gloom and doom. It's a sickness.


  • Well if there were....||

    ....too much diversity, the complaints would be about invasive species caused by global-mankind whatever and on and on....

  • prolefeed||

    Who fucking cares how "diverse" the crop varieties are?

    It mattered during the Irish Potato Famine.

    Having nothing but fields of genetically identically monoclones is a bad idea if you don't have any backups for when the pests crack the code and wipe out the harvest.

    Or talk to the folks in the California wine country who had to rip out all their root stocks and replace them with pest-resistant strains.

    It's the same reason men, if they have that choice, prefer a variety of different women.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I don't know what a muskmellon is and I don't want to know.

  • yonemoto||


  • Ska||

    "Honeydew is the money melon!"

  • NoVAHockey||

    Honeydew is the money melon.

  • ||

    That's what I hear.

  • yonemoto||

    You do not want seed varietals if the state does not put them in cold storage.

  • sevo||

    Sounds like some serious cherry picking.

  • Zeb||

    What the fuck happened to National Geographic? Didn't they used to not suck?

    Did it not even occur to them to look in a contemporary seed catalog to see how many seed varieties are available rather than regurgitating the results of some 30 year old study?

  • ||

    NatGeo ran out of stuff. The world is only so big.

  • It's now like Playboy...||

    ...look at the pretty photos, but skip the stories.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Do you like apples...?

  • Matt Damon||


  • ||

    Sorry Katherine, but a lack of panic just doesn't fit into our narrative.

  • skr||

    I've had this exact argument with way too many people. I love that I can whip out a recent study. Take that fuckers.

  • ||

    Reason carrying water for big-ag again.

  • sevo||

    "Reason carrying water for big-ag again."
    Stupidity or sarcasm? You decide.

  • sevo||

    Zeb|8.5.11 @ 5:22PM|#
    "What the fuck happened to National Geographic? Didn't they used to not suck?"

    How long ago? An acquaintance went on the Nat G junket where they 'observed' the declining polar bear population and later admitted there was absolutely no base line to from which to make any judgment.
    That was, oh, 8-10 years ago.

  • steve||

    This is hardly "extinction" anyways. We created all this stuff, so who cares if we let it all go.

  • Alice||

    We should try our best to protect the enviroment while developing the economy.


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