The Shape of Yields to Come

great pumpkin
A pumpkin fit for Linus. This behemoth weighed 2,624.6 pounds (1,190.5 kg), claiming a new world record October 9, 2016 for Belgian grower Mathias Willemijns at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship in Ludwigsburg, Germany. How much further up can humans push the yield curve? Image credit: Thomas Kienzle/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

An article in AgFunder News published February 1, 2018 reported that a bag of corn had a yield potential of about 500 bushels per acre. In 2017, the US average corn grain yield hovered around 176 bushels per acre, 2 bushels above 2016 and far away from the AgFunder News report. Meanwhile, in 2015 David Hula of Charles City, Virginia produced 532 bushels per acre; the year before, Randy Dowdy of Valdosta, Georgia marked 504 bushels per acre. This caught many experts off guard, sending them back to their research plots to figure out what they were doing. Some even criticized the yield figures as faked.  In fact, the biophysical limit for corn grain yield was estimated by Matthijs Tollenaar in 1985 at ~1,320 bushels per acre using optimized, yet realistic, levels of quantum efficiency, grain fill duration, harvest and leaf area index parameters. At the time Tollenaar published his estimates, Herman Warsaw had just produced a (then) record-breaking 370 bushels per acre on his Illinois farm. Continue reading

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Profiles in Green: Yukina Savoy

yukina savoy
Yukina savoy (Brassica rapa variety). Photo taken January 2018 after several nights down to 16o F (-9o C).

Across a broad swath of North America, January isn’t prime time for outdoor plants, nor for those veteran dirt hogs dreaming of tilling the soil, sowing seed, and coddling the various tribes of the vegetable kingdom. North Carolina is not exempt from this seasonal hiatus despite the usually mild winters. Witness January 2018: opening with an icy blast of polar vortex strong enough to spawn what is being called a bomb cyclone (!) further north, thankfully far removed from my perch.  Still, poignant traces of leafy green bolt skyward here in the winter garden undaunted, longing to capture the sun’s rarefied gleam. One such leafy green is yukina savoy, a relatively obscure, hardy Asian vegetable that can hold its own against freezing temperatures every bit the equal of southern mainstays like collards and kale.

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Further Notes on Climate “Smart” Agriculture: Carbon Sequestration and its Discontents

Climate “smart” enthusiasts claim that damaging effects of climate change can be reversed by agricultural practices that promote sequestration of atmospheric carbon in soil. What is the evidence?

In my February 7, 2017 palaver Climate “Smart” or Climate Semantics? I gave an unflattering review of climate smart agriculture (CSA), now in heavy rotation by  international donors USAID, FAO, The World Bank and research centers like CGIAR. Since then, it has been covered by Crops, Soils, Agronomy News magazine, a monthly review published jointly by the Crop Science, Soil Science, and Agronomy Societies of America. Nothing I have read there changed my mind about CSA.

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Climate “Smart” or Climate Semantics?

Unloading combined corn grain during harvest. Farmers have rationalized fossil fuel powered, climate-adverse inputs including synthetic fertilizers based on measured productivity and returns. What are the parallel benefits of climate “smart” agriculture, and how do we measure them?

There’s a new kid on the block tugging at the global development purse strings. It’s called climate “smart” agriculture, heir apparent to sustainable agriculture, the latter aging passé with trend-conscious consultants who design projects for international donors like USAID, The World Bank, United Nations entities, and their contractors. Even global centers like the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have been smitten. I have heard the term “climate smart” used indistinctly, in different settings, over the past year or so but did not pay attention to it. My bad. Now, it seems, the climate smart paradigm is in heavy rotation by purveyors of international development. But what exactly is climate “smart” agriculture (CSA)? What does CSA really mean to a smallholder remotely located in, say, Burkina Faso or Bangladesh? Or to operators here at home in North Carolina? Is CSA a path forward for global agriculture or is it just another semantic pivot at re-stocking R & D coffers?

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Good Migrations


MC Escher ‘Day and Night’

Agrosphere Journal has moved to WordPress. I have endeavored to preserve the same look and content structure, i.e. “theme” of the former Blogger site, which have continued serving the purpose for which they were created. As you may have noticed, I am not a prolific blogger in terms of the number of blogs posted annually. My blogs are infrequent, relatively long, borderline hyper-technical missives on various topics that interest me professionally and unprofessionally. If you have landed here, count yourself among the “elite” few determined to part the digital bilges for greener fodder. Take what you will from each blog, and don’t shy away from commenting in the public block or via email.

All of this is in advance of migrating The Open Furrow, Agrosphere Journal’s sister website which I created and have maintained since 2009, to another server and eventually, to the WordPress platform. The migration has been compelled by several factors, the primarily one being the push for consolidating duplicate IT efforts within various academic units at NC State University. The Department of Soil Science merged with the Department of Crop Science as of July 1, 2016 so the domain will be deprecated effective February 1, 2017. It also aligns with the desire to wean myself away from reliance on Dreamweaver as a web authoring and management tool. Much I as love Dreamweaver, Adobe’s cloud-only subscription model has effectively placed off limits all future desktop versions for the software. Couple that with incessant Windows 10 updates, it is only a matter of time before something breaks CS 5.5, so I view migration to an open-source platform like WordPress as proactive.

At this point I have not decided the future home of The Open Furrow website. There are basically two options: (1) migrate to an NCSU-OIT hosted site; or (2) migrate to an off-campus host. Neither option is free. The Open Furrow has generated a modest stream of traffic, given its rather special interest purview. While feedback from visitors has been positive, The Open Furrow does not pay rent. Sadly, everything boils down to money; there is no shelter apart from this reality. So it remains my decision whether, and how much, to invest personally in keeping The Open Furrow going. I am still turning this over in my mind.

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