amaranth8.jpg
Monoculture has led to the cultivation of only a few species of each crop.

New Crops:
Feeding a Hungry World


A number of crops have shaped our eating patterns throughout over time. New crops, however, have been utilized more widely. Whether for higher nutritional content or ease of cultivation, they have had a major impact on eating patterns all over the world.


Genetic Diversity

MONOCULTURE AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

There has been a loss in genetic diversity among crops since mechanized farming has taken over as the primary method of cultivating crops. Monoculture is defined as "growing the same crop year after year in a large region" and has been influenced tremendously by a number of factors like; mechanization, improvement of crop varieties and chemicals to fertalize crops and rid them of pests. With the invention of the steel plow and steam engine, farming would experience a drastic change. This opened the gateway to the gasoline powered engines by the mid-20th century that eliminated the need for animals to work the farms. This, in turn, eliminated the need for crops as livestock feed. Farmers were then able to make a bigger profit by growing more crops. Machinery became designed to perform a specific task. With this, farmers followed suit and realized it was more efficient to grow just one crop rather than many different crops. With the invention of chemical fertilizers and pesticides the need to rotate crops was wiped away.

This has many adverse effects on agriculture. With genetically identical crops, which are often grown in one area/climate area, they are vulnerable to disaster. Natural resistance to disease is eliminated if all of crops share the same genes-- see the Irish potato famine, the destruction of the Sri Lanka coffee plantations and more recently in 1984, the infection of 18 million Florida citrus trees. Contrary to this is the sustainable agriculture movement. Modeling farming after nature, farmers may be able to build better soil, eliminate many chemicals and turn their focus on perrenials that come back every year. Soil erosion would be diminished, pest management would get better and disease control would be more effective. An example of a success in sustainable agriculture would be the Prairie-- grasses that lasted "millenia", partially due to a rich soil.
peregrine-illo---seeds.gif
US Soybean Germplasm

GERMPLASM AND SEEDBANKS

The germplasm is essentially the collection of encoded genetic instructions and resources of a plant. The information contained in the germplasm basically indicates what type of plant it is, as well as all of its distinctive traits. Without the germplasm, the plant cannot create new and updated varieties. Because the germplasm is known as the “raw material of the plant breeder”, it allows them to create the new and improved varieties of specific plants—but this also in turn leads to a significantly decreasing amount of natural genetic diversity in plants, known as genetic erosion. Because plant breeders can now adjust the plant genetic code to make it more high-yielding varieties, the traditional plant varieties are ultimately being abandoned.

Since its introduction during the Green Revolution in the 1960’s, Genetic erosion has been an increasingly growing issue. The United States is estimated to have lost up to 90% of the seed varieties that were once brought here before 1950. Seed banks, or gene banks, have been one way that organizations have tried to counter-balance the negative effects of genetic erosion. Seed banks are basically a collection of domesticated and wild relative plants from all around the world. The main seed bank in the United States is located in the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, CO. The location in Colorado is just one of about 20 facilities throughout the country that comprise the National Plant Germplasm System. In Fort Collins over 500,000 seed samples and treated and maintained. These samples span across about 8,000 different species. Seed banks can often prevent the vital loss of genetic plant variety that could be significant to future breeding opportunities. In some circumstances, seeds can be dehydrated and sealed in special aluminum bags, or even cryogenically frozen in tanks of liquid nitrogen to help preserve the seeds over long periods of time. The germplasm has clearly become an integral part of plant variety and preservation.



The Green Revolution

HIGH YIELD AND DISEASE RESISTANT VARIETIES

The green revolution encompasses the positive effects that plant breeding has on agriculture in the United States. The Nobel committee called the Green Revolution a "technological breakthrough which makes it possible to abolish hunger in the developing countries in the course of a few years." Certain technologies, like pesticides and irrigation, are reasons for the significant increase in crop yields. For example, wheat, rice and corn have each increased dramatically in yield percentage over the past decades.

Among the thousands of diseases that kill crops, the most common are infectious diseases. For example, diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi threaten crops everyday. Despite the availability of many pesticides, it is reported that 50% of the worlds crops do not last past storage. Fortunately, plant pathologists have discovered various varieties of disease resistance crops. For example wheat, corn and rice have been commercialized globally due effective breeding of the crops.

HISTORY

In 1941 the U.S. first became involved with agriculture in developing nations. During this time four teams traveled throughout Latin America in order to learn how to improve the agricultural area. There was heavy concern placed on rubber production due the war with Japan, which threatened the United States supply. Research departments were imported in Peru, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Guatemala. In the 1950's and 1960's research to improve agriculture was emphasized toward helping aid in world hunger.

PROBLEMS

While the first Green Revolution of the 1960s produced record yields, it also helped contribute to world hunger. Green Revolution technologies are expensive. The fertilizers, seeds, pesticides and machinery needed for efficient, profitable farming were out of reach for many small time farmers. This increased the divide between the rich and the poor in many developing countries. Poor farmers were often driven out of business while surrounding communities that depended on their crop yields suffered. Along with pricey farming technologies, energy costs are also extremely high. The manufacture of inorganic fertilizers requires a large amount of energy (two barrels of oil per barrel of nitrogen fertilizer.) Following the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, the cost of petroleum products skyrocketed and farmers began to feel the price burden. Another underlying problem stemming from the Green Revolution is an increase in environmental issues caused by the heightened use of fertilizers. Fertilizer contributes to nitrogen rich run-off that infiltrates into our ocean water as well as our ground water supply. The run-off depletes oxygen within the ocean which in turn effects the underwater ecosystem. Many species suffer or die from decreased oxygen levels. The use of fertilizer also has a negative effect on our soil. It can increase both heavy metal content as well as acidity. Earth's atmosphere also shows negative effects due to the use of common fertilizers. High levels of nitrogen (which is a leading green house gas) are emitted into the atmosphere. As an effect, the ozone layer is further depleted. Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides used to combat pests and disease among plants, also contribute to negative environmental and health effects.

The use of fossil fuels required for farm machinery is another area of growing concern. Fossil fuels are non renewable resources that take millions of years to develop. Following the Green Revolution, consumption of fossil fuels has increased. As a result, reserves are now being depleted much faster than new ones are being formed.

Along with consuming large amounts of fossil fuels, crops also require large amounts of water for maximum yield. Crops utilize water from rainfall and irrigation. In the United States, more than one third of our water supply goes to irrigating the county's crops. Similar to the use of fossil fuels, water used for crop production is not being replaced as rapidly as it is being used. In areas where large quantities of water are being used, but failing to be replenished, sinkholes are developing. This means that the land collapses into the space where the water was originally stored. The irrigation used contains salt that remains in the soil after the water evaporates. Eventually, the leftover salt builds up and negatively effects the cropland. The issue is called saline soil. Increased levels of salt in soil that is used for crop yield causes nearly 25 million acres of land a year to be lost. Salinity is perhaps the most detrimental environmental factor that inhibits agricultural growth.

sinkhole.htm
a dangerous sinkhole


Lastly, the Green Revolution poses a dangerous problem, the increase in food supplies in the 1960's and 1970's led to a significant increase in population, especially in developing countries. Uncontrolled population has the potential to lead to starvation. This is especially true if adverse environmental effects inhibit agricultural growth within these nations. How can a fast growing population be fed if the crop growth is slowly reducing?

SOLUTIONS

Many suggest that the solution to keeping the expanding world population fed is food distribution. Currently, the world has enough food to keep the entire population alive. However, in different parts of the world people are dying from starvation, while in countries such as the United States food is wasted on a daily basis. Countries that suffer from lack of food are often relieved with food aid from agriculturally prosperous nations. Although food aid helps, its effects are only temporary. A stronger solution is to improve developing nation's farming techniques, while simultaneously enforcing population control.

Farmers are beginning to turn to biological controls (such as predators like the ladybug and praying mantis) rather than turning to pesticides. Rhizobium bacteria that is often found in legumes, has the ability to fix nitrogen within the soil. This eliminates having to use inorganic fertilizers. Newer irrigation systems are being used that conserve water by spraying it closer to the ground, rather than launching it wastefully up in the air. Small changes such as these are helping to solve many of the environmental issues that arose from the Green Revolution.

external image moz-screenshot.jpg
ladybug.htm
The ladybug and praying mantis waiting for prey

z.htm
new irrigation system














New Crops

The crops listed below have all had an impact on agriculture in recent history.

Golden Rice -- Chris Tredeau

Tamarillo and Naranjilla- Ali Shover

Amaranth -- Sean Oliveira

Quinoa -- Brian Riordan

Tarwi -- Chelsea Rothman


References:
1. Snodgrass, Doug. "The Wicked Cool World of Organics". Celsias: Climate Change is not a Spectator Sport, 7 Dec
2009. http://www.celsias.com/media/uploads/admin/corn_field.jpg
2. Levetin, Estelle, and Karen McMahon. Plants and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 5 ed. 2008. Print.
3. The Germplasm Resources Information Network. 7 December 2009. http://www.ars-grin.gov/
4. Botanic Garden Seed Banks Worldwide: Resource Center. 7 December 2009. http://www.bgci.org/resources/article/0032/
5. Germplasm photo: http://agronomyday.cropsci.illinois.edu/2003/exhibits/peregrine-illo---seeds.gif
6. Shattuck, Annie. "The new Green Revolution." Washington Times. (2009): Print.
7. Laidlaw, Stuart. "Green Revolution gets Rethink." Toronto Star. (2008): Print.