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Evolution and InnovationSave Biodiversity...Rise

Scientist predicts mega yields with fewer inputs by 2030...!

OVER VIEW..........EIN....: Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ST. LOUIS — Continued progress in plant biotechnology — along with advances in other areas of agriculture — are necessary to meet increased global population and economic growth, according to one of the top scientists in the field.
Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Monsanto, told scientists gathered here for a global conference that not only will the demand be met, but it can occur while inputs are reduced.
The encouraging picture of agricultural technology over the next few decades was a recurring theme at the meeting of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology. The weeklong event brought together scientists from every populated continent to share information and map out goals.
Geographers estimate that global population will increase from nearly 7 billion today to about 9 billion over the next 30 to 40 years. While feeding the growing population is a daunting challenge to farmers, per-capital consumption is also expected to increase.
“We know there will be an incredible enhancement in global wealth and personal diet and nutrition,” Fraley said. “Particularly looking at the economic growth across Asia and across parts of Africa, we’ll see a billion consumers move from the lower class to the middle class, and that’s independent of the birthrate.”
The result will be the need for a doubling in agricultural production over the next few years.
“The world basically needs to prepare itself to produce twice as much food over the course of the next 20 to 30 years as it does today to meet the demand from both population growth and the enhancement in health and nutrition,” Fraley said. “It’s a huge challenge.”
Feeding a world growing at such an exponential rate would not be possible without technology allowing farmers to grow more crops on less land.

“The stark reality is this: Every year we cultivate a landmass that’s basically the size of South America,” Fraley said. “And if we’re doubling demand, we either plow up another South America somewhere or we dramatically intensify agriculture on those soils that can handle the increased fertility.
“We think it’s possible to double yields. And in the course of increasing yields, we’ll have the benefit of reducing the inputs require to produce each unit of output — a bushel or corn or a bale of cotton.”|
As technology increases, efficiency is outpacing historic yield increases. That will continue, Fraley said.
“We’ve had 10 or 12 years of biotech crops,” he said. “Now when you look forward and see the explosion of knowledge, the vast number of new traits and advances in breeding — when we look forward into the next 10, 20, 30 or 40 years — we’ll see a change literally in how we grow crops, how we produce food and how we deliver health and nutrition.”
And while the conference focused on plant biotechnology Fraley made it clear that is only one of the tools needed to meet global demand for food and fiber in the next few decades.
“This isn’t just biotechnology,” he said. “It’s really the integration of the advances in breeding, the possibilities that will be created with biotechnology, and also the continual integration and acceleration of agronomic practices from planting equipment, GPS position-control tractors, seed treatments to different approaches to disease control. We’re basically evolving in an accelerated way.” Advances in accelerated breeding technologies, among other things, will allow farmers to take the yield curve to a new level. Fraley predicted that by 2030 corn yields will average 300 bushels per acre and soybean yields will average 80 bushels.<!--
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High-yield agriculture slows pace of global warming, say FSE researchers :

Louis Bergeron - Stanford News Service....
Advances in high-yield agriculture achieved during the so-called Green Revolution have not only helped feed the planet, but also have helped slow the pace of global warming by cutting the amount of biomass burned - and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions - when forests or grasslands are cleared for farming. Stanford researchers estimate those emissions have been trimmed by over half a trillion tons of carbon dioxide. The paper is being released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere - the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide - according to a new study led by two Stanford Earth scientists.
The yield improvements reduced the need to convert forests to farmland, a process that typically involves burning of trees and other plants, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The researchers estimate that if not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world's total output of greenhouse gases since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.
The researchers also calculated that for every dollar spent on agricultural research and development since 1961, emissions of the three principal greenhouse gases - methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide - were reduced by the equivalent of about a quarter of a ton of carbon dioxide - a high rate of financial return compared to other approaches to reducing the gases.
"Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more 'old-fashioned' way of doing things," said Jennifer Burney, lead author of a paper describing the study that will be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Adding up the impact
The researchers calculated emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, converting the amounts of the latter two gases into the quantities of carbon dioxide that would have an equivalent impact on the atmosphere, to facilitate comparison of total greenhouse gas outputs.
Burney, a postdoctoral researcher with the Program on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford, said agriculture currently accounts for about 12 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Although greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of fertilizer have increased with agricultural intensification, those emissions are far outstripped by the emissions that would have been generated in converting additional forest and grassland to farmland.
"Every time forest or shrub land is cleared for farming, the carbon that was tied up in the biomass is released and rapidly makes its way into the atmosphere - usually by being burned," she said. "Yield intensification has lessened the pressure to clear land and reduced emissions by up to 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year."
"When we look at the costs of the research and development that went into these improvements, we find that funding agricultural research ranks among the cheapest ways to prevent greenhouse gas emissions," said Steven Davis, a co-author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford.
To evaluate the impact of yield intensification on climate change, the researchers compared actual agricultural production between 1961 and 2005 with hypothetical scenarios in which the world's increasing food needs were met by expanding the amount of farmland rather than by the boost in yields produced by the Green Revolution.
"Even without higher yields, population and food demand would likely have climbed to levels close to what they are today," said David Lobell, also a coauthor and assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford.
"Lower yields per acre would likely have meant more starvation and death, but the population would still have increased because of much higher birth rates," he said. "People tend to have more children when survival of those children is less certain."

Avoiding the need for more farmland
The researchers found that without the advances in high-yield agriculture, several billion additional acres of cropland would have been needed.
Comparing emissions in the theoretical scenarios with real-world emissions from 1961 to 2005, the researchers estimated that the actual improvements in crop yields probably kept greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to at least 317 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and perhaps as much as 590 billion tons.
Without the emission reductions from yield improvements, the total amount of greenhouse gas pumped into the atmosphere over the preceding 155 years would have been between 18 and 34 percent greater than it has been, they said.
To calculate how much money was spent on research for each ton of avoided emissions, the researchers calculated the total amount of agricultural research funding related to yield improvements since 1961 through 2005. That produced a price between approximately $4 and $7.50 for each ton of carbon dioxide that was not emitted.
"The size and cost-effectiveness of this carbon reduction is striking when compared with proposed mitigation options in other sectors," said Lobell. "For example, strategies proposed to reduce emissions related to construction would cut emissions by a little less than half the amount that we estimate has been achieved by yield improvements and would cost close to $20 per ton."
The authors also note that raising yields alone won't guarantee lower emissions from land use change.
"It has been shown in several contexts that yield gains alone do not necessarily stop expansion of cropland," Lobell said. "That suggests that intensification must be coupled with conservation and development efforts.
"In certain cases, when yields go up in an area, it increases the profitability of farming there and gives people more incentive to expand their farm. But in general, high yields keep prices low, which reduces the incentive to expand."
The researchers concluded that improvement of crop yields should be prominent among a portfolio of strategies to reduce global greenhouse gases emissions.
"The striking thing is that all of these climate benefits were not the explicit intention of historical investments in agriculture. This was simply a side benefit of efforts to feed the world," Burney noted. "If climate policy intentionally rewarded these kinds of efforts, that could make an even bigger difference. The question going forward is how climate policy might be designed to achieve that."
David Lobell is a Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and at the Woods Institute for the Environment. The Program on Food Security and the Environment is a joint project of the Woods Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute. The Precourt Institute for Energy and FSE provided funding for Jennifer Burney's research on agriculture and energy.

Climate change impacts on plants uncertain, says FSE Center Fellow David Lobell :
"While there is pretty clear evidence that CO2 helps plants, there's plenty of debate about how much it helps," says David Lobell. One reason is that plants depend not only on carbon dioxide for healthy growth, but also on water and other nutrients. Increase CO2 without increasing the other factors, and you can get plants that are bigger, but relatively deficient in, say, nitrogen - meaning insects may have to eat more of each plant to stay healthy themselves. Some Free-Air Carbon-dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiments look at the effects of variations in rainfall and nutrients as well as CO2. "Surprisingly," says Lobell, "you get different answers when they vary one at a time than when they vary together. It means there are a lot of interactions between the factors."

Climate change will, moreover, lead to different effects in different parts of the world. "In northern areas," says Lobell, "you'll see an expansion of the growing season" - which, if the Finnish study is correct, won't necessarily help forests, but could be good for crops, since you can deliberately plant seeds that are suited to long summers. But in arid parts of the tropics, he says, where plant growth is limited by the availability of water, more frequent droughts could make things worse. "Large parts of the world," says Christopher Field, "are already at the warm edge of where things like to grow."

When we allow cars to compete with people for food :
Crude oil prices hit $120 a barrel this month, translating into gas pump prices above $4 a gallon in parts of the United States. As a result, the rallying cry of energy self-sufficiency is gaining strength, reinforcing the U.S. policy of promoting renewable fuels, particularly corn-based ethanol, to reduce dependence on imported oil.But a different rallying cry—food self-sufficiency—is becoming louder in many developing countries where rice, wheat and other staples are in such short supply that food riots have erupted. China, India, Argentina and several other countries have raised export restrictions on key crops to ensure food supplies for their consumers. That move has further increased world prices.
It is important to remember two key lessons from similar chaos in world food markets in 1973-74. First, attempts to gain domestic price stability create global price instability. And second, once policies are established to protect food markets, they are not easily dismantled. It took two decades for rice trade to expand in Asia, and even then, it remained limited.The United States must take a lead in confronting the world food crisis. But to do so will require a genuine commitment to improving the well-being of people around the world—and recognizing that energy self-sufficiency at home can mean widespread starvation abroad.
In its starkest form, the global food crisis is about rising agricultural commodity prices that place hundreds of millions of poor people at greater risk of malnutrition. Most of the 800 million people globally who survive on a dollar a day or less live in rural areas and work on farms.
The two- to fourfold jump in prices during the past 18 months for internationally traded commodities, such as rice, wheat, corn, soy and vegetable oils, has resulted in fewer and smaller meals for the poor. The rise in the number of malnourished people globally is only beginning to be tallied.
High food prices have been associated with high petroleum prices. The cost of crop production is up, the value of the dollar is down, and biofuels are an attractive alternative to fossil fuels for transportation. Diverting one-fifth of the U.S. corn crop to corn-ethanol production and setting a renewable fuels mandate of 20 percent of U.S. motor fuel consumption by 2022— a fourfold increase in 15 years—has driven up prices for corn and substitute crops, especially soybeans.
Demand for corn, soy and other livestock feeds already had been rising due to increased meat consumption by China and other emerging economies. Add some major weather, pest and disease shocks, and the market for staple agricultural commodities tightened dramatically in 2006 and 2007.
Moreover, a surge in speculative activity has exacerbated market volatility.
How should the three presidential candidates, in particular, address this crisis?
For starters, the United States should retreat from its heavy promotion of corn-based ethanol and allow the markets to settle. Although the 2008 U.S. Farm Bill, passed by the House and Senate last week, includes a reduction in the ethanol blending credit from 51 cents to 45 cents per gallon, the subsidy remains high and is offset by other biofuels production incentives.
President Bush plans to veto the bill, but both the House and the Senate passed it with more than the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto. The presidential candidates, Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, were all absent for the vote.
The bill increases the Food Stamp Program by $10 billion to help poor Americans buy food at higher prices, but there are no measures that will assure developing countries and international markets that global food supplies will be adequate and that prices will come down. Congress needs to endorse the World Food Program's new strategy of providing food aid in the form of cash instead of surplus grain shipments, a strategy that would allow food-deficit countries to purchase their calories regionally and thereby promote agriculture closer to home.
It also would be wise for the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand, not abolish, investments in agricultural research for low-income countries.
The world can produce plenty of crops at reasonable prices for food and feed, if appropriate agricultural investments are made. But it cannot produce enough crops for food, feed and fuel at prices affordable to half of the world's population.
Authors :
By Nat Williams.

David Lobell
 - Stanford University
Rosamond L. Naylor
- Stanford University
Walter P. Falcon
- Stanford University


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