Feeds

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

Dirtboffins argue for lawn-style perennial grainfields

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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). ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.