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The Green Revolution

Green Revolution's diet of big carbon savings

The Green Revolution of the 1960s raised crop yields and cut hunger - and also saved decades worth of greenhouse gas emissions, a study concludes.

US researchers found cumulative global emissions since 1850 would have been one third as much again without the Green Revolution's higher yields.

Although modern farming uses more energy and chemicals, much less land needs to be cleared.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. . . .

Modern intensive agriculture is often criticised over its relatively heavy use of chemicals, which can impact insects, larger animals and plant life in the vicinity of the farm.

In addition, the run-off of excess fertiliser into rivers and lakes can generate blooms of algae and "dead zones" of water where nothing can survive.

However, strictly from the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions, intensive farming appears to be significantly the better option.

"Our results dispel the notion that industrial agricultural with its petrochemicals is inherently worse for the climate than a more 'old-fashioned' way of doing things," said Dr Davis.

He and his team suggest that policymakers keen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should look towards further increases in crop yields, which they say might be more economical than other innovations.

Existing research shows that curbing production of meat - which is an inefficient user of land and water - would by itself have some impact on emissions, though by precisely how much is debated.


 

Comments

I am not sure what This article is really saying.

Did I believe that tractors were evil before I read this?

The source for this amazing piffle is a post doc. Now I have nothing against post docs. Some of my best friends are or have been post docs. Almost all of them were naive and most were blinded by their ambition to succeed within their discipline. So there's that....

The Carnegie Institution and Stanford have fine reputations and they support youngsters like Davis at a time when they need a boost up the academic career ladder. Nothing but nice things to day about Carnegie and Stanford. Hell, Stanford is the home of the World Famous Hoover Institution, one of the First Republican Sponsored Public Policy Think Tanks (FRSPPTTs). Carnegie sponsored forward looking research in the field of eugenics that buttressed public support for laws mandating sterilization of the "feeble minded." (Did I mention that some of my best friends are feeble minded post docs? No? Well, it's true.)

Anyway, Stephen Davis' research must stand on its own merits regardless of who sponsored it and who supports it. All we have today is the Carnegie press release and the PNAS article: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/14/0914216107.full.pdf+html

It seems obvious to me that high yield varieties of food crops are better from a greenhouse gas pollution per kernel of rice basis than older low yield varieties. Less obvious is the extension of that high yield benefit to lowered greenhouse gases by supporting Monsanto and ADM, John Deere and Caterpillar.

Davis et al. suggest, "...in order to speed the adoption of agronomic advancements that improve crop yield, mechanisms for connecting investments in yield gains to the global carbon markets should be explored."

Sounds like a recipe for graft and corruption to me; the same kind of thinking that subsidizes, through the carbon market, the construction of coal fired electricity generation in Germany today.

Anyway, Stephen Davis' research must stand on its own merits regardless of who sponsored it and who supports it.

After two paragraphs of poisoning the well, albeit in the most polite and respectful way, you get to a legitimate the point. Indeed it must stand on it's merit

Less obvious is the extension of that high yield benefit to lowered greenhouse gases by supporting Monsanto and ADM, John Deere and Caterpillar.

The argument has nothing to do with Monsanto et al. per se, the connection is to the benefits of higher yields whatever the method. We'll have no guilt by association in my world.

...in order to speed the adoption of agronomic advancements that improve crop yield, mechanisms for connecting investments in yield gains to the global carbon markets should be explored."

Sounds like a recipe for graft and corruption to me;

That may very well be the case, and I'm certainly opposed to graft and corrruption, but the benefits of less carbon in the atmosphere is a good thing, isn't it? So the argument should not be against improving crop yields but against corporations manipulating the system to their benefit and the detriment of society.

So Frank where do you stand on GMOs 1. Opposed to them all? 2. Opposed just to the transgenic ones? 3. Or even a post hippy friend of the organic movement can see the benefits of GMOs? :)

Is it just my faulty memory or do I recall a picture of you sitting atop a Deere?

G... M... O...

wait a min...

If you rearrange the letters you get... O...G...M...!

Onegoodmove has been a GMO front from the very beginning! I'm going to Alex Jones with this. This site is so over!

an eternal goolden braid?

Sorry I'm late to this party. I had to get this year's first cutting of hay baled and stacked. (btw, we've doubled our Organic hay yields each of last 3 years, and this year's first cutting promises quite gratifying comparison with "Conventional" farming yields/acre. We don't spread manure from CAFO operations, we do spray folier feed with Organic fish emulsion after each cutting and interplant clovers with grass for nitrogen fixing.)

Thanks for the reference Norm. Unlike some of the previous "peer reviewed" bait you've dangled before us, this one was actually worth a nibble or two.

The paper asks what might be the value of greenhouse gas emissions 'saved' by the "Intensive" agriculture yields/methods of the Green Revolution from 1960 to the present. To answer this question, the researchers define a "Real World" model in which all yield gains are attributed to R&D investment in Ag. science (public and private), assuming all such investment is for yield (hardly true, since most Ag R&D funding is now private and heavily geared to GE patentable product). It then creates two make-believe alternative worlds, in which the only increases in food production are achieved through putting more wild land to ax and plow. Then, by comparing their "real World" definition to their make believe worlds, they count as "savings" the greenhouse gases that MIGHT HAVE been created.

Dr. Davis asserts: ""Our results dispel the notion that industrial agricultural with its petrochemicals is inherently worse for the climate than a more 'old-fashioned' way of doing things," said Dr Davis."

What Dr. Davis does not even consider, is that industrial agriculture is not the only, and certainly not the best "modern way". His paper suffers from this myopia.

Further, all his results really show, is that one might create make believe alternative worlds and then publish descriptions of them.

OK, so "Intensive" agriculture has saved the Rain forest? Not exactly, for the paper excludes lands used for Bio-fuel production and that is currently the biggest motivator for transforming rainforest.

Well, maybe "Intensive" Agriculture improved the "living standard" of the poor folk. Well, not exactly, for as we know most productivity gains were in Oil and Cereal (corn) commodity crops. Sadly, yield gains from research in vegetables have remained rather stagnant over the last 4 decades. There's not much money to be made in them.

Perhaps we might forgive these researchers for presuming that "intensive" (e.g. industrial) farming is the only modern way to farm and the only way to feed the world. 'Tis, after all, a common misconception that productivity requires industrial monoculture agriculture. Indeed the "Mendel in the Kitchen" book you recommended compares Organic Farming to the subsistence agriculture currently used in much of Africa. (sorry, can't find the page right now). The common wisdom of those advocating Industrial farming is that Organic is "old fashioned", anti-science, and unproductive. None of these presumptions are true, but they are common. The real problem with Organic methodology is, of course, that there's no money to be made by industrial agriculture seed and chemical manufacture if farmers can produce food without them.

Despite the effort and academic quality apparent in this paper, it still just comes down to a "Green Eggs and Ham" tale involving make believe comparisons that break no sets and conclude at best that "it could have been worse."

We can do better than that. We must do better than that.

Have you been talking to Frank? In industrial farming like organic there are good and bad practices. But still any agriculture that excludes GE not based on the science but as a matter of principle has a few screws loose.

Why not adopt the best tools from both, make decisions based on the science not some throwback to a time that never existed, when organic farming was "natural."

Good to hear the hay is where it belongs and your yields are up, a ranchers work is never done.

Why not GE in Organic production? Because Organic is currently the ONLY regulated label that provides a choice to the consumers regarding GE.

While you may be happy eating GE fruit designed to reduce susceptibility to some tree fungus or virus, how do you feel about feeding your child GE food that is bred to resistance to 2 or 3 increasingly poisonous pesticide and herbicides hence is sprayed with both and survive to be eaten? Or, while you may not care if you eat a banana laced with Hepatitis B vaccine, some do care.

What is scientific about deliberately and thoroughly eliminating any possibility of a non-GE food control group for any longitudinal scientific study of long term effects? What is scientific about rendering CDC incapable of tracking down any near term "oopies" in GE product release because it is unlabeled? Allergies are non-trivial, with transgenic foods it can matter a WHOLE LOT if an allergen food is mixed with a previously safe food and you don't know. May not matter to you, but it might well be life and death for someone else.

Why NOT provide the option for informed consent by labeling the stuff? That way you can eat it and I need not. OR, as with rBGH I can choose to drink milk from it cuz I'm already old but can choose NOT to feed it to pre-pubescent granddaughters?

Thoughtful people might disagree about whether or not GE techniques are functionally equivalent to older forms of plant breeding. I'm not askin' for a warning label like that on Cigs that lists potential dangers, I'm just wantin' a bit of fine print in the Ingredients label. You don't even have to read it if you don't want to!

It's our food. We have a right to know it's transgenic. And before you ask, yes, I know many medications and vaccines are produced with GE. That's different for one reason. They aren't food. We KNOW if we have taken them, and If a problem emerges it can be traced. That is really different than selling those Hershey bars with GE sugarbeets sugar and not lettin' on about it.

HOWEVER, this paper never mentions GE. It speaks instead to the notion that the Industrial Agriculture Model is the only way to achieve high productivity per acre. The theory that we must go ahead and destroy our best crop lands with poisons, and it will be ok because we're setting aside wild land for biodiversity is so short sighted in my view.

Why do you think Organic farming is "some throwback to a time that never existed when organic farming was "natural"?" What's unscientific about soil testing, mulching, composting, tracking yields, using crop residue and animal waste in quantities that actually benefit the soil instead of poisoning it? What's unscientific about reducing the inputs we must truck in?

Organic is scientific. It is modern. Or maybe it's Conventional Industrial farming that's "modern" and Organic is "postmodern". Heck, I don't know. What I do believe however, is that we need not use manufactured chemicals to grow good food productively. To presume otherwise is simply buying into a sales pitch that isn't true.

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