Feeds

'Biggest thing in farming for 10,000 years on horizon'

Dirtboffins argue for lawn-style perennial grainfields

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Agro-boffins in America say that mankind could be on the verge of the "biggest agricultural breakthrough in 10,000 years", as researchers close in on "perennial grains".

At the moment, most grain grown around the world has to be replanted after every crop. Farming so-called "annual" grain of this sort consumes a lot of resources and is hard on the land, which is especially worrying as half the world's population lives off farmland which could easily be rendered unproductive by intensive annual grain harvests.

"People talk about food security," says soil science prof John Reganold. "That's only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security."

Reganold and his fellow dirtboffin Jerry Glover argue that perennial grain - in addition to not needing replanting, so saving on passes of farm machinery over the ground, fuel etc - would have a much deeper and more powerful root system than annuals, rather like a well-kept lawn. This would mean that it used water much more efficiently; and water is often a major issue in agriculture and its impact on its surroundings.

Other benefits of a deep perennial root system beneath farmers' fields would be less erosion and better carbon sequestration. Perhaps most tellingly of all, such a field might need as little as 3 per cent of the fertilisers required by annuals. Not only are nitrate fertilisers energy-intensive to make, they are also prone to washing out of fields to pollute water supplies, kill habitats and cause other eco mischief. Perennial fields would also require much less in the way of herbicides to control weeds.

At the moment, perennial grains capable of matching annuals don't exist. However, Reganold and Glover argue that they can be bred with sufficient effort: it's purely a matter of resources put into research. It's perhaps worth noting that there's not as much obvious revenue in perennials for major agro firms as there is in some kinds of annuals - there would be no continual requirement for new seed.

The two researchers, and many colleagues in the business, argue that with enough development cash perennial grain could be available in less than 20 years - representing, in their view, as great a step forward in food production as the original shift by the human race out of hunter-gathering and into farming in the first place.

The assembled dirt experts have convinced the editors of hefty boffinry mag Science, where their arguments are presented (subsciption required for full text). ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vulture 2 spaceplane autopilot brain surgery a total success
LOHAN slips into some sexy bespoke mission parameters
Another step forward for diamond-based quantum computers
Square cut or pear-shaped, these qubits don't lose their shape
LOHAN acquires aircraft arboreal avoidance algorithm acronyms
Is that an ARMADILLO in your PANTS or are you just pleased to see me?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.