Precision agriculture in Wall Street Journal

Robert Paarlberg’s article “The Environmental Upside of Modern Farming” cites our work about land-sparing. Rob has just published a new book Resetting the Table: Straight Talk About the Food We Grow and Eat.

We continue to follow the achievements of farmers. Corn yields have gone insane.  Average USA yields have continued the gradual climb to about 170 bushels/acre or 12 tons/ha. Peak yields have soared.  The National Corn Yield contest in the conventional category  was 476 bpa or 32 tph in 2020. In 2019 however, David Hula and Randy Dowdy, doing some unconventional things, got to ~600 bpa or more than 40 tph.

At yields this high, the question is what to do with the product – vast surpluses and low prices are not good for farmers.  The amounts are so immense that they must become hamburgers and ethanol, but if we wanted polenta, we could release enormous amounts of land for Nature. The incentive to lift yields further is probably going to be weak the next few decades.  It would not surprise us to find corn farmers stay on a plateau now for a couple of decades until humans figure out what to do with all the product.  This may not be true of some other crops.

The Dutch greenhouses are another important story, another big step toward what in the 1980s we started calling Landless Agriculture. This National Geographic story 2017 shows the importance of greenhouses. .

The potential for land-sparing, for E O Wilson’s Half Earth strategy remains very real.