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.
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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Our 12th post in the Next Generation blog series is by Millicent Yeboah-Awudzi, PhD candidate in applied plant science at Louisiana State University.
Our 11th post in the 2018 Next Generation blog series is by Becky Zhong, PhD candidate in applied plant sciences at the University of Minnesota.
In California, farmers are again faced with drought. On the east coast farmers have been struggling with incessant rain and flooding, hurting yields. For many commodities, market prices have been dismal and with years of declining farm income, many older farmers are calling it quits and walking away. As they leave, they take with them years of valuable knowledge and experience, and in many cases there is no new generation to carry on the risky endeavor. The statistics now say that less than one percent of the US population makes a living from farming or ranching. How will farmers survive today and in the years ahead?
Our 10th post in the 2018 Next Generation blog series is by Becatien Yao, a PhD candidate in agricultural economics at Kansas State University.
Our 9th post in the 2018 Next Generation blog series is by Ahmed Saddam, a PhD candidate in Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion at Mississippi State University.
Our 8th post in the 2018 Next Generation blog series is by Fally Masambuka, a PhD candidate in Agricultural Communication at the Ohio State University.