I think I have an article you might be interested in by Jean-Pierre Berlan,
Director of Research in Technological Change and Evolution of Industrial
Systems, National Institute for Agronomy Research, Montpellier, France. It's
entitled "Agricultural Science in the Creation of New froms of Property or the
Secret of Agricultural Genetics." He also has a chapter out in an edited
English book, but I can't remember the title. This is an excellent article
and really shook my faith (as it should) in any kind of advances from hybrid
corn breeding. As he points out "during the period of hybrid development [of
corn] from the early 1920s, when all breeding efforts were channeled to
hybrids, to their conquest of the Mid-West by 1946, corn yield increased by
18% in the Corn Belt, while wheat yield increased by 32%. The number of
public wheat breeders in 1936 was exactly the same as the number of 'hybrid'
I would also mention, in response to Jim Quinton's rememberance about his
grandfather's day, that we don't know exactly which ears of corn the workers
were looking for. My eyes were opened to new ways of doing things during an
interview that I conducted with an 89 year-old relative in the late 1980s. I
was working for a corn breeder at the Univ. of Nebraska as an undergraduate
and considering an agronomy career. My elderly cousin told me that "people
laugh about that open-pollinated corn and they are all excited about hybrid
corn. Well, we just didn't plant 'any' corn -- we saved the best ears from
each load of corn and put them in a separate place. They were the ones used
for planting the next year. And we got good yields." As I understand it now,
this was a preferred method of crop breeding from the gentleman farmer era to
today in true-breeding crops like wheat and soybeans. In other words, those
old geezers had a lot of 'practical' knowledge about agriculture that perhaps
we ought not to sniff at. And perhaps there were a lot of other pressures
(i.e. Extension, creditors, markets, equipment technology, etc.) that
encouraged farmers to give up control over their seed source in favor of
hybrid corn, besides the usually stated reasons of economic returns,
productivity and efficiency.
joel b gruver wrote:
> Hello to all...
> I recommend that a quick perusal of county/state corn yield competition
> results from the 19th century might be shocking and perhaps enlightening
> for some of the readers of SANET... believe it or not many of the winners
> of these
> contests are credited with yields of well over 200 bushels per acre ..
> On the
> same page of an agricultural bulletin one can read that the county yield
> average was 20.2 bushels but the winner of the county yield contest grew
> 262 bushels... I think I actually recall a couple pre 20th century yields
> that were were in excess of 300 bushels...
> I can only imagine how much manure was applied to these contest fields...
> I occasionally peruse the results of current yield contests and they don't
> look very different to me... I don't know how the contests were supervised
> a century ago or even how such a contest is supervised today...
> Perhaps someone can comment on this...
> In a large compendium of Agroecology articles... perhaps in a book by that
> title which came out about a decade ago, there was a chapter that
> discussed in detail the history, politics, economics, genetics...etc...
> of open-pollination vs. hybridization as a strategy for corn breeding...
> I have a copy of this chapter tucked away somewhere in my files and I
> am also sure that I could find it
> again in the library... an interesting aspect of the chapter is
> it weighs the public benefit of the millions of public dollars that
> have been spent on the corn hybridization trajectory of research...
> I don't think anyone would debate that we have embarked on this
> corn hybridization trajectory
> whole-hog and have hardly stopped to look back... the chapter suggests
> that there are other analagous research trajectories that need some
> Perhaps if Kruschev had never visited Iowa, the USSR would have taken a
> different research trajectory with respect to corn breeding...
> I once read a very interesting article about how the Soviet technology
> used in their satellites was (perhaps still is) fundamentally different
> then the US approach...
> I think that we can all agree that research trajectories are not
> objective... I long for the day when I will have the time to investigate
> more thoroughly the research trajectory that has gotten US agriculture to
> where it is today... this is an aspect of agriculture that I have not
> found to be covered seriously in any Agricultural curriculum but that I
> to teach someday...
> My understanding is that rather than yield gains from heterosis, the more
> significant result of the hybridization paradigm is the extremely high
> uniformity of todays corn... which results not from hybridization but from
> the many generations of
> inbreeding prior to hybridization...
> Heterosis is our ace in the hole that allows the vigor lost in our quest
> for uniformity (of a naturally highly heterozygous species) to be
> Joel Gruver
> U of MD
> Soil Quality Research
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