Saturday, September 6, 2014
More grain, less destruction
This is a new research article about agricultural yield potential in China based on a wide, very rigorous range of data. Essentially it says that by using a judicious mix of modern inputs and locally-adapted agronomic management practices, China's current farmland could produce enough rice, wheat, and corn to meet its projected 2030 food needs. The article argues that, even in an intensive, high-yielding agricultural setting like China, farmers are currently far short of obtaining the maximum yields possible from their local growing conditions. Agronomic research is rightly criticized for naively assuming that the high yields obtained under ideal research site conditions could be fully replicated in real farmers' fields. The lack of similarity between research field conditions and farmer conditions is always a danger with any ag research, but what fascinates me about this article is the sheer number of sites and years the researchers looked at. The widely varying conditions of their experimental sites, and their explicit consideration of four different types of management regime, make their conclusions much more robust. If they're right, it looks like the future may be a little less grim than it could have been.