Science

Global Crop Yields Slowing

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Some call it maize

In Nature, researchers disturbingly find that the yields of four major crops—corn, rice, wheat, soybeans- are slowing and even falling in various regions around the globe. From the abstract:

In the coming decades, continued population growth, rising meat and dairy consumption and expanding biofuel use will dramatically increase the pressure on global agriculture. Even as we face these future burdens, there have been scattered reports of yield stagnation in the world's major cereal crops, including maize, rice and wheat. Here we study data from ~2.5 million census observations across the globe extending over the period 1961–2008. We examined the trends in crop yields for four key global crops: maize, rice, wheat and soybeans. Although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24–39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse.

The Washington Post reports:

Study co-author Jonathan Foley, talking to Science Daily, suggests one possible explanation. "This finding is particularly troubling because it suggests that we have preferentially focused our crop improvement efforts on feeding animals and cars, as we have largely ignored investments in wheat and rice, crops that feed people and are the basis of food security in much of the world," he said.

Consider the situation with corn around the globe. As the Nature study reports yields have stagnated or collapsed in several African countries. Currently African corn yields hover around 25 to 30 bushels per acre [PDF]. Even in 2012's bad drought year average U.S. corn yields were 122 bushels per acre [PDF]. Some researchers believe that it is possible to raise average corn yields in 20 years to 300 bushels per acre. This means that Malthusian starvation can be avoided if governments in poor countries allow their farmers to take advantage of modern crop technologies.

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  1. That’s an awfully phallic picture, Ron. NTTAWWT.

    1. OTTER: Vegetables can be really sensuous,
      don’t you think?

      No.

      Vegeta.bles a.re sensua.I.

      People are sensuous.

      Right. “Sensual.” That’s what l meant.

      1. Are you implying Ron is Dean Wormer? That’s cold, dude.

        1. Yup. And that would make Gillespie Mayor Carmine.

          Bailey, what do you plan to do about that zoo of a comment board of yours?

          1. I think we all know that Shackford is Flounder, amirite?

            1. Moynahan would be Pinto?

              1. I have no idea who D-Day is. Lucy?

                1. Jessee Walker.

            2. What about Stork? I think 2Silly needs to be Stork.

              1. I was actually going to suggest that. But who the hell is Bluto? Lucy?

                1. Bingo. Lucy is definitely Bluto.

                  1. So Lucy is going to be a senator?

                2. who the hell is Bluto?

                  KMW, obviously.

    2. It’s only phallic because the cosmotarians at Reason are waging a war on menz. Yields slowing? Picture of corn. If yields were rising more quickly? You’d get some nice pomegranates instead.

      1. nicole is clearly Marion Wormer. Look at how she talks about vegetables and fruit!

          1. I wanted to do Verna Bloom after I saw Animal House…..

      2. Mine is bigger than yours Nicole.

      3. the cosmotarians at Reason are waging a war on menz

        That just gives me a mens rae

        Thems libertoids wants be gaying up all the kiddies and making them all dreaming about… hot…buttered…corn cobs… and mexicans. MEXICANS TAKING OVER TEH CULTURE WHICH HAS BEEN FAGGIFIED BY YOU TRAITOROUS DRUG SNIFFING COP HATING I-BET-YOU-VOTED-OBAMA GAY LOVERS

        I note that pomegranates have deep sexual-cultural significance as well. Remember Persephone! My favorite greek myth of all.

        1. I note that pomegranates have deep sexual-cultural significance as well.

          Well that’s why I chose them!

          1. KIDNAPPING DAUGHTERS AND HOLDING THEM HOSTAGE IN HELL IS SURE PATH TO INCREASE CROP YIELDS

            Worked for the Greeks!

  2. In Nature, researchers disturbingly find that the yields of four major crops – corn, rice, wheat, soybeans…

    OMG. What are we going to use to fuel our precious automobiles and vegans? I don’t want to be forced to live an Atkins lifestyle.

    1. Um. Those crops do feed most of the people in the world.

      1. Way to bury the lede. Automobiles are people!

      2. Are you cereal? It was ingrained into my head that those crops weren’t important. You’ve given my something bran new to think about.

        1. FoE is Cereal Killer?!?

          English Teacher: [written on a blackboard and spoken out loud] Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.

          Cereal Killer: Ozzy Osbourne.

          English Teacher: Name?

          Cereal Killer: uhh…Emanuel Goldstein, sir.

          English Teacher: You, however, are not on my list.

          Cereal Killer: Whoa! This isn’t woodshop class?!?

        2. Sorry, I forgot never to take you seriously.

          1. Why do you resist your training?

  3. Maize? WTF? I am pretty sure that is spelled C-O-R-N in Murikan, thank you. Is that some type of bullshit thrown into the language to make the study more multi-culturally friendly and PC? *barf*

    1. You call it corn. We call it maize.

      1. No, we call it “subsidies”.

      2. Milho, Maize, wtf ever, IT’S FUCKING CORN IN MURIKA! You damn fureners, taking jerbz and ruinin Murika!

    2. No. Most of the world actually calls it maize. Corn is kind of a generic term for the seed head of any cereal crop.

      1. I’m a Muriken (and so is Bailey). I don’t give a fuck what the rest of the world calls it. It’s corn!

        1. WE DIDNT KILL ALL THEM INJUNS JUST SOS WE HAVE TO KEEP USING THEIR WORDS! ITS CORN! NONE OF THIS ELOTA CON QUESO NONSENSE!

      2. Have you ever ate any corn in the rest of the world? IT SUCKS BALLZ! Corn is only good in Murika, that’s what it’s called CORN!

        Seriously, my wife was amazed at how good corn is here when she first came here. Murikan corn is the best, and so we get to name it. And dead Injuns better be a warning to anyone that gets the idea that corn is theirs to name, damnit!

  4. Is agriculture failing or is socialized agriculture failing? Africa loves socialist scheming.

    1. Tim| 1.2.13 @ 11:41AM |#
      “Is agriculture failing or is socialized agriculture failing? Africa loves socialist scheming.”

      As do the Euros, the USAians, the Rooosians, the Chinese and ’bout every other government I can think of.
      Anyone who can sort out what the global food market responds to deserves one the the Nobel prizes that still mean something.

  5. This means that Malthusian starvation can be avoided if governments in poor countries allow their farmers to take advantage of modern crop technologies.

    What? And allow some farmers to become rich? Inequality! Can’t allow it!

    1. About the only western ideal enthusiastically embraced in Africa has been Marxism.

      1. Africa would be the worlds economic powerhouse if they weren’t being oppressed by old white guys.

        1. I hear the same thing about North America.

  6. Has anyone ever tried to eat cow corn? You know, the stuff that grows in giant fields when you are driving through the midwest? You can’t eat it, no flavor at all like sweet corn. And that is my educational factoid of the day for H&R.

    1. Just how much corn did you stop and steal before realizing it was no good?

      1. As much as we could carry before we saw those tractor lights headed our way in the distance.

        See how these golden factoids of great wisdom can save you a lot of wasted time?

    2. Cow corn tastes like shit until you grill it and then slather it in mayonnaise, butter, parmesean cheese and chili powder.

      At least, that’s what the guys on the side of the road selling it tell me.

      1. I see that you were a much more enterprising and creative corn thief than I was, sloop.

      2. There are primarily three kinds of corn.

        Dent corn is what they grow for feed and processed food. The majority of corn grown in fields is dent corn.

        Sweet corn is the stuff you grill and slather with butter.

        Then there’s popcorn which is its own special plant.

        I learned that from Modern Marvels I believe.

        1. Which is the kind that people show up in the ER with stuck in their ass?
          Talk about your invasive species…

          1. Which is the kind that people show up in the ER with stuck in their ass?

            Hopefully not popcorn….

  7. Although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24?39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse.

    Well, which is it? Are they not improving, are they stagnant or are they collapsing? Please be more accurate when you doomsday prophesy.

    And

    Study co-author Jonathan Foley, talking to Science Daily, suggests one possible explanation. “This finding is particularly troubling because it suggests that we have preferentially focused our crop improvement efforts on feeding animals and cars, as we have largely ignored investments in wheat and rice, crops that feed people and are the basis of food security in much of the world,” he said.

    When a study’s author offers up analyses and/or solutions without supporting evidence, I tend to view it with a bit more skepticism. See: Warming, Anthropogenic Global

    1. Well, which is it? Are they not improving, are they stagnant or are they collapsing? Please be more accurate when you doomsday prophesy

      Depends on where most of the funding for said study, is coming from.

    2. I’m sorry, but the idea that rice and wheat have been ignored by investors (ie farmers) on a global scale just fucking beggars belief. I can get, like eighteen different strains of rice at the grocery store. More than a couple have been bred for the US. Here’s the update for a year ago.

      Fuck these guys who pretend that the prevalence of corn and soybeans is anything but a result of huge corn subsidies and the need to grow a nitrating crop in rotation with the corn.

      1. I think he is talking about acreage, not variety.

  8. Well, there’s always Soylent Green…

    1. “So, for a tasty treat that’s good to eat, try Soylent Green. Now in Vanilla Nut flavor. Soylent Green is people.
      Soylent Green. Made from the best stuff on Earth. . .people.”

  9. Congratulations, team anti-GMO! You achieved your desired goal.

  10. “rising meat and dairy consumption …will dramatically increase the pressure on global agriculture”
    Only because we choose to feed our livestock grain as opposed to, I dunno, grass!?

    1. What about lab grown meat. I hear that is well on it’s way to becoming a reality.

      1. But that would be…unnatural.

    2. Only because we choose to feed our livestock grain as opposed to, I dunno, grass!?

      Grass fed can’t support the demand, cost of meat would go up. That is my understanding anyway. From the Omaha World-Herald

      1. This is readily observed in nature when you see corn fed deers as opposed to deers who are scavenging on whatever they can find outside of the corn fields.

        Deers feeding on corn are the size of moose.

        1. What is the plural of deer?

      2. Yeah, decent article in the Omaha paper, but outside of the cost argument, I’m highly skeptical of any argument in favor of grain feeding when there’s this much influence/money/etc tied up in it.

        http://www.utne.com/Wild-Green…..ments.aspx

    3. Like people, the denser the calorie content of the feed, the bigger the livestock grow. If you need to sell 20 tons of beef a year to make your ranch profitable, its way easier to do so feeding them grains regularly than trying to get enough grassland.

      1. Grazing has it’s own challenges. The soil gets compacted, parasites get deposited and passed around, if the animals refuse to eat say, Golden rod or Buttercups, those weeds expand at the expense of closely cropped grass.

    4. I’m no cattleman, but this guy is and makes a pretty compelling argument.

      http://grist.org/sustainable-f…..able-meat/

      a more lengthy rebuttal is in this vid, that I was fortunate enough to catch in person:

      http://vimeo.com/52709242

      Totally get the grain fed get’s fatter faster argument, but at a cost to the healthfulness of the meat and damage to the land the grain is grown on.

      1. I’m glad the Polyface guys run an efficient farm, but I don’t care to pay the premium for a distinction I can’t taste the difference in. Also, there’s a pretty high quotient of unsupported “facts” in that rebuttal. I’ll want to do a lot more checking into some of their assertions about pasturage and nutrient cycles before I jump on that bandwagon. It sets of my professional bullshit detector. Which is not to say that the polemic he’s rebutting is more factually accurate. I haven’t examined it.

        My understanding is that beef that is edible (and even tasty) can be raised faster, cheaper with grain finishing. Others prefer to spend more to have a better taste or less saturated fat in their marbling (be careful, there, less saturated fats go rancid faster when aged) or feel better about themselves and that’s fine. But when talking about how to feed the most people meat, grain feeding has its definite place and is more efficient as judged by cost and time investment.

        1. Brett,

          From the American Cattlemen mag. Not a bad article.

          1. Good article. Thanks.

          2. Good article. Thanks.

          3. Good article. Thanks for that.

            The squirrels keep eating my comment. All fucking squirrels must fucking be run over.

        2. Brett L| 1.2.13 @ 1:02PM |#

          I don’t care to pay the premium for a distinction I can’t taste the difference in.

          You have to feel the difference. Any right-thinking, moral, intelligent person can tell right away when the food they consume is more “sustainable” and low-impact to the environment. If you fail to appreciate this distiction, then just make sure to choose to pay 30% more for everything you buy, or better yet, only shop at Whole Foods and buy anything with words like, “Macrobiotic” or “12-grain” or “antioxidizing”

          /yuppieasshole

  11. “…we have preferentially focused our crop improvement efforts on feeding animals and cars…”

    Animals and cars can’t be brainwashed into thinking that organically grown crops are better for them and the world. When I’m in the grocery store and see “organic” on the produce or package, I pass it by.

  12. This means that Malthusian starvation can be avoided if governments in poor countries allow their farmers to take advantage of modern crop technologies.

    Governments are the problem (once again) in far too many countries. Property rights, legal systems, and infrastructure all work to keep production down. Improving those would help as much or more than just introducing biotech.

  13. “”This means that Malthusian starvation can be avoided…

    I’m not sure that’s what Environmentalists want.

  14. So we’ve reached Peak Food?

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