Posts Tagged ‘food security’

Stagnating yields?

April 13, 2013

Maybe. In several countries the yield trends have flattened. The raising yields from the 1990s are history. It should not be so. Plant breeding has made progress. There is scope for increase. So – why this development?

In Sweden we have started a project to find out the reasons for this lack of development ant if possible suggest improvements. Several reasons are discussed: soil structure, soil compaction, declining organic matter, lack of good break crops, more stress on reducing costs than increase income, neglected drainage …..

The experiments on farmers fields show a better development, 2-3 tons or so above the statistical yields for winter wheat. 11-12 tons is not uncommon. So there is scope. It may be so that our shorter vegetation season compared to teh Continent to some extent is compensated by longer summer days and cooler weather reducing respriration losses.

Are higher yields important? At least 3 reasons can be put forward:

Global food requirement. Land is a scarce resource. Raising demands must be met to a great extent by higher yields.

High yields are essential for the competitiveness of Swedish agriculture.

High yields are advantageous for the soil and the environment, provided inputs etc are correctly adapted


An exciting year – Sustainable Intensification in practice

January 3, 2013

Today I have been out controling and mending fences. 4 horses are about to arrive. Nice day, 8 degrees, also a January winter day. There are some possibilities for grazing, although the main thing is to provide space and exercise.

Sustainable Intensification – big words from important organizations. Nevertheless, for anything to happen we have to rely on the farmers. Can we get response?  (An English translation of  Framtidsodling will come shortly).

But there is a discussion. “Intensification” is an ugly word for some people. “More “industrial agriculture”, is that the way? It should be smallscale and organic. We don´t need more production really, we could waste less and distribute better to those wanting”. However,we need both ways. With the current economical paradigm, economic efficiency through competition, we will continue developing the so called “industrial agriculture”.  What we can do is to include the factors  “sustainability” and “environment”


Sustainable Intensification

December 27, 2012

Sustainable Intensification, is there something more there than an emergency solution coined by the Royal Commisssion when nothing else was at hand: more production is needed (caused by increased consumption), further land resources are scarce, water is scarce, the environment cannot take further loads, on the contrary – that should be reduced. Increased production on the land we use seems a necessity.

So – there is substance. It is clear that we can improve the present agricultural production in different ways. Let us just focus on it.

A Swedish project “FramtidsOdling” will work on that focus.

“Framtidsodling” means literally Future Farming, or rather Future Crop Production. Ideas of an English name will be welcome. Future Farming seems a bit over-used.

Recycling is another general topic which has engaged me a lot in 2012. A project within the Royal Academy of Agriculture and Forestry will end up in a seminar in Febr 2013. We need recycling, but not at any price. It should have a positive net effect at least on long term basis. There are many aspects to consider and often an unambiguous solution is not evident. But at least might be possible to find a system for evaluation of different alternatives.

Sustainable intensification

November 18, 2012

This is what the world needs. It is gratifying to note that this has been highlighted in the magazine Stockholm Waterfront. There is a program: More crop per drop.  In this respect it is important not o lose crop because of for instance unnecessary lack of required nutrients.

I seems to me that the “water sector” has been slow to realize or at least really recognize this relation. Intensive agriculture may have drawbacks for water quality. However, the intensification should be sustainable, which means  consideration of both agronomic and environmental aspects.

It is a formidable challenge, but inspiring.

Drought in China.

February 9, 2009

Black headlines in the daily papers. Not unexpected but still troubling. Many farmers in the world face the situation that the land no longer can support them. And still more live on water resources which are being emptied and will dry up. There are always problems in some part of the world, but this does not seem to be local and occasional. The situation at large seems labile, problems increase and the reserves are low.

What we can do here is to use our resources in the best way possible, to build systems which are both productive, efficient, sustainable and with few environmental drawbacks.

Great challenges ahead demand more agricultural research.

January 29, 2009

In Science (9 Jan) is a report on how climate changes affect the future agricultural production. It looks grim. If IPCC are right the increases in summer heat in 50-60 years leads to 20-30% decrease of production in important European agricultural areas. And in northern Africa – disaster.

But what we needed was a doubling of production!


Is there anything positive to put forward? Some possibilities:


IPCC is wrong. Maybe Svensmark is right and the solar influence on cosmic radiation means more than carbon dioxide (see posts labeled Climate). Then maybe we are better off? Or maybe worse?? In any case we ought to work with climate gases because that is one of our few hopes to affect the situation. Also – the seas are negatively affected by carbon dioxide, regardless of climate effect.


We develop crops and agricultural systems less sensitive to heat and drought. In this work we need the top knowledge and technology available, even if it is spelled GM. We cannot wait and see, this work takes time.


Maybe we should not grow crops in the middle of the summer and instead have one crop in Spring and one in late Summer – Autumn. Something like the systems in India-Pakistan.


We need more research on agricultural ecosystems, integrating aspects on both production and environment as well as sustainability. This is necessary for an acceptable future. But that responsibility lies on the society, not on the agricultural sector of today.

Food in the world.

January 25, 2009


A French documentary was shown in Swedish TV tonight. Not a very optimistic picture. And whatever the agriculture does makes problems for the third world. Too much production gives low prices and destroys local agriculture. Too low production or low export starves the third world.


In any case – there is a need for more food in the years ahead. It seems necessary to change habits or at least to change trends. Continued increase in the consumtion of animal food is not possible to sustain. And energy crops have a back side. To those who preach that there is enough food even with a substantially reduced production I would ask the question: is it possible that the world as a whole accepts a rationing system?


It was said in the program that global competition is not a good system for agricultural production. This has been said before in this blog. Some influence from the society is needed, both for production and environment.


Many developing countries have a plight. But with better government they could have favoured an agricultural development in the rural villages. The first step is to use local resources and markets. Such a development has started.


Maybe it will be a duty to produce surplus for export?

The Swedish model with efficient family farm units and a fairly well functioning environmental policy could be a model for many areas. It can be improved but shold be defended and promoted.

New year – new trends?

January 3, 2009

A new year. With promises and hope. The magazine Land has a double page with wishes from farmers and people related to farming. “Better prices” dominated. But the price section in the paper showed mostly downward trends.

We have a crisis. Maybe this is positive as some people say, but not those who are in danger of loosing their jobs. But clearly, we need some kind of trend shift globally. Maybe something like that is under way in the energy sector.


Thinking of resources I checked the situation for arable land. It is hard to find really up to date global figures. From 1975 to 1995 arable land per capita has gone from 0,31 hectares to 0,25. With the same trend it will be 0,2 in 10 years. One hectar should feed 5 persons.

What do we need? Our energy requirement is about 2500 kcal per day, or about 10 MJ. That is the available energy in about 1 kg of grain. With a yield of 4000 kg 0,1 hectare is needed. But in addition we need proteins, vitamins etc. Without detailed calculation we add another 0,05 hectares for that, and we have a total of  0,15 . But there are losses and in addition the global cereal yield is only about 3000 kg per hectare. So we are in luck to have pastures and orchards etc in addition.

Pigs, poultry and bioenergy must be fitted in the margin somewhere. And much else.


Conclusions?    1. Economize    2. Take care of the land and its productivity.