Sep 14, 2009 | 8
Norman Borlaug went from a small farm in Iowa to feeding half the world, thanks to a lifelong interest in tinkering with the genetic design of wheat. He passed away on September 12 from cancer at the ripe age of 95 and the question remains: Is the Green Revolution dead, too?
In 1944 Borlaug, trained as a plant pathologist, left the U.S. for Mexico to fight stem rust, a fungus that infects wheat, at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He and his colleagues spent the next decade crossing thousands of strains of wheat from across the globe, ultimately developing a high-yielding, disease resistant variety. Unfortunately, it couldn't stand, heavy with grain.
So Borlaug crossed it again with Japanese dwarf wheat to produce a so-called semidwarf wheat, both shorter (and therefore not prone to tipping over with all that extra grain at the tip) as well as disease-resistant and amenable to fertilization. Where the variety was planted, yields soared.
Feb 17, 2009 | 3
In recent decades, China has pushed the use of nitrogen fertilizer to help wrest as much food out of farms as possible, in part to stave off the famines of the past. Of course, such overuse of nitrogen results in air pollution and ocean dead zones—as well as, paradoxically, less fertile soil.
Now new research shows that by using just one third of typical amounts—presently as much as 600 kilograms per hectare—farmers could get the same or better results growing corn, rice and wheat, the main staple crops. The key is applying the fertilizer to seedlings rather than adding it to soil while planting, write Ju Xiao-Tang of China Agricultural University in Beijing and his colleagues in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
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