July 8, 2015

Guest Commentary - Moving Matters: The Effect of Location on Crop Production

By Elizabeth Leake, InSTePP Communication Specialist, University of Minnesota 

In a recent study published in the March 2015 edition of The Journal of Economic History, Jason Beddow and Philip Pardey (University of Minnesota, InSTePP) challenge some long-standing notions about the past and future evolution of crop production by taking explicit account of agriculture’s geographically-shifting footprint.

When analyzing crop yields, economists have long emphasized commercially-marketed and managed inputs, such as fertilizer, machinery, irrigation, and crop genetics, without giving as much consideration to spatially-explicit policy, biological and environmental conditions such as soil type, sunlight, rainfall, temperature, pests, and diseases. By so doing, they risk misattributing sources of growth (to inputs) and overestimating the effects of technological advances and climate change.

Beddow and Pardey’s new insight was that common economic indexes could be adapted to assess the output consequences of shifting the location of crop production. They applied these spatial indexes to analyze US corn production data for 1879 to 2007, a 128 year period during which there was a notable north-westerly movement in where corn was produced—the average corn plant in 2007 was grown over 400 kilometers northwest of its 1879 ancestor. Strikingly, some 16-21 percent of the increased corn output over the period is attributable to that movement, and, implicitly, the corresponding changes in biology, technology, weather, and economics faced by corn farmers.

InSTePP researchers are now investigating whether similar patterns of movement are evident for other crops and regions. Preliminary results reported by Beddow and Pardey find that more recent movements in the location of sub-Saharan African corn production may have had the opposite effect: decreasing crop output. Notwithstanding, the study raises prospects for future changes in where crops are grown to increase global crop production and mitigate impacts of global climate change.  

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Archive

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Interview with Ren Wang: Empowering Smallholder Farmers

Ren Wang, assistant director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, explains why we must support smallholder farmers through knowledge, market access, and technology in order to achieve global food security.



Video Notes - Ruth K. Oniang'o on the importance of empowering women farmers

Ruth K. Oniang'o, Founder and Editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, as well as the Founder and CEO of Rural Outreach Africa, addresses gender mainstreaming in agriculture and how empowering women farmers can improve nutrition and health.


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A farmer in Rwanda shells her maize after harvesting.




Interview with Barbara Schaal

Professor Barbara Schaal discusses the importance of investing in agriculture research to meet the demands of the future.




Commentary - Putting Food and Farming on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

While the climate talks in Warsaw continue to sideline the world’s one billion farmers from the policy discussions, another UN process – the post-2015 development agenda – offers another opportunity for the agricultural sector to contribute to the future sustainable development challenges ahead of us.


Photo of the Week

A farmer in Gitwa, Rwanda, reads a training at one of the input delivery sites.




Video Interview with Secretary Dan Glickman

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Chicago Council on Global Affairs Global Agricultural Development Initiative Co-Chair Dan Glickman addresses the importance of agricultural education, the effects of climate change on agriculture, and the need to fund agricultural research.