QUESTION: What techniques have improved crop yields over the past several decades? (Wendy, from New York)
Wendy, there are more answers to that question than I can possibly list. Remember that just about every state has an agricultural college whose missions include helping farmers to improve crop productivity. In your state, Cornell is that University. They have first-rate departments of plant science, and you might check with researchers at Cornell to see what they've been doing lately.
You might want to take a look at this web page (from Michigan State University) for a glimpse of some of the factors that influence crop productivity:
As you will see, what farmers try to do, with the aid of agricultural researchers, is to optimize everything from the nutrient content of the soil, moisture, spacing of plants, shade (or lack of shade), control of insect pests, and finally, the genetic capabilities of the plants themselves. Plant researchers and seed companies work every year to develop higher-yielding plants that produce more and more food per acre, and the improvements they have made are reflected in steadily rising crop yields.
Ken Miller (2/14/02)
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