What is in this article?:
- Fifty years brings significant changes to agriculture
- More from less
- Genetic advances
- In 1962, one farmer fed 25.8 persons.
- In the 50 years since, he has taken on considerably more responsibility and now feeds 155.
- 50 years of change mean farmers can produce more food and fiber on fewer acres and with fewer nutrient inputs.
Dr. Travis Miller
Miller said genetic advances in corn have outpaced improvements in other crops. He said breeding for “an erect leaf angle” has been a significant achievement. The erect leaf angle, he says, allows farmers to increase plant population. “That’s the key to increased yield. In 1950, farmers planted from 4,000 to 5,000 plants per acre. Now, that’s up to 30, 000,” he said. “The erect leaf angle captures sunlight better.”
He said modern corn hybrids also have stronger stalks. Herbicide tolerance has helped farmers produce corn more efficiently and economically. Adding the Bt gene helps control borers, earworms and rootworms.
Miller said genetics have improved nutrient quality of corn, including high lysine. Other improvements include drought tolerance and improved nitrogen use efficiency, “which may be coming soon.”
“In 2009, the corn genome was decoded so (breeders) will be able to develop new hybrids faster,” Miller said.
He said his research also showed that corn farmers are using nutrients more efficiently. “In 1964, farmers used 125 pounds of fertilizer per acre. In 1982 that figure increased to 300 pounds per acre. In 2007, 225 pounds were applied per acre. “While yields are going up, the pounds of nutrients used are going down,” Miller said.
He said sorghum production has improved with yield increasing from 50 bushels per acre to about 63 bushels per acre. Significant advances in sorghum include the Stay-Green trait, developed in 1977. Greenbug resistance came along in 1984. Seed safeners and downy mildew resistance have also improved sorghum production, and Miller said non-GMO herbicide tolerance may soon be commercially available.
“The sorghum industry has not had the money available (for research and development) that has been put in corn,” he said.
Wheat producers have benefitted from semi-dwarf varieties, Hessian-fly, cereal-mite, and greenbug resistance.
“The wheat genome is 95 percent sequenced and with more investment, we will see significant advancements.”
Miller said the advancement from one farmer feeding 25 people to 155 in 50 years is a significant achievement. “And we are doing it with far fewer farmers. The reason we have food on our table is because of the exponential growth from increased productivity.”