How to Double Rice Yields.   Norman Uphoff of Cornell has developed a System of Rice Intensification. 

Harvests typically double, he says, if farmers plant early, give seedlings more room to grow and stop flooding fields. That cuts water and seed costs while promoting root and leaf growth.   ...“The claims are grossly exaggerated,” said Achim Dobermann, the head of research at the international rice institute. ...  Vernon W. Ruttan, an agricultural economist at the University of Minnesota .... once worked for the rice institute and doubted the system's prospects.  Dr. Ruttan no calls himself an enthusiastic fan, saying the method is already reshaping the world of rice cultivation.  "I doubt it will be as great as the green revolution,"  he said.  "But in some areas it's already having a substantial impact."

posted June 17, 2008 at 3:10 p.m.


Land Reform.  How can small farms be more efficient than large farms?  Read the comments.

posted June 17, 2008 at 2 p.m.


Neo-Malthusians or the Singularity?   The New York Times quotes, among others, Tyler Cowen of George Mason: 

Americans are attracted to Malthusian doom-saying, Dr. Cowen argues, “because it’s a pre-emptive way to hedge your fear. Prepare yourself for the worst, and you feel safer than when you’re optimistic.”  Dr. Cohen, of Rockefeller University, sees it in more sinister terms: Americans like Malthus because he takes the blame off us. Malthus says the problem is too many poor people.  Or, to put it in the terms in which the current crisis is usually explained: too many hard-working Chinese and Indians who think they should be able to eat pizza, meat and coffee and aspire to a reservation at Chez Panisse. They get blamed for raising global prices so much that poor Africans and Asians can’t afford porridge and rice. The truth is, the upward pressure was there before they added to it.  America has always been charitable, so the answer has never been, “Let them eat bean sprouts.” But it has been, “Let them eat subsidized American corn shipped over in American ships.” That may need to change.

John Tierney, also writing in the NY Times, approvingly quotes Robin Hanson (also of George Mason):  "Dr. Hanson... takes a long look at economic history and sees fairly steady growth punctuated by two “economic singularities”–the invention of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution–that caused dramatic accelerations in growth.  Dr. Hanson extrapolates from these trends to suggest that we’re due for another economic singularity sometime between now and 2075."   Tierney asks:  "Whom you would bet on: the Malthusians or the Singularitarians?"

posted June 17, 2008 at 8:30 a.m.


Pro-Fertility Population Policy in Singapore.  Reason Magazine writes on "underpopulation hysteria"

"These days the official slogan of Singapore’s baby-making campaign is “Three or More.” But Singaporeans of childbearing age grew up listening to an altogether different appeal: “Stop at Two.” As in much of East Asia, the tiny island’s population exploded after World War II—by more than 90 percent between 1957 and 1970 alone. In the Age of Aquarius, billboards and posters warned young couples “the more you have, the less they get” and “girl or boy, two is enough.” Parents who agreed to be sterilized after having two children got priority placement for their kids in elementary school.  Since then, demographic conditions have changed radically, but the state has maintained its intense interest in procreation. Singapore’s “total fertility rate,” a crude prediction of how many children a woman will bear in her lifetime if current patterns persist, is among the lowest in the world at 1.07. ... Governments far less authoritarian than Singapore’s are intruding into childbearing choices. "

Two additional asides:  The Singaporean government's Social Development Unit (SDU) is described as an  "official matchmaking agency ... known to snarky islanders as 'Single, Desperate, and Ugly'."  And how's this for a "reality TV" series:  "'super baby making show,' which would pit 10 couples against one another to see who could conceive first."  

posted June 17, 2008 at 7:40 a.m.


Flooding in the Midwest and Crop Yields.  Replanting in mid-to-late June will cause a significant drop in corn and soybean yields,  contributing to high grain prices during 2008-09.

"Illinois growers who plant corn or soybeans near the end of June can expect a 50 percent reduction in crop yield....In Illinois, 95 percent of the corn is planted and 88 percent has emerged, but less than half of that is reported to be in good or excellent condition. Fully 14 percent of the acres planted are in poor or very poor condition, with another 38 percent reported as "fair." Those acres in poor or very poor condition may have to be replanted...Some growers -- in southern Illinois especially -- will have to replant as wet conditions have caused some seed to rot.  Despite the poor conditions, Nafziger finds it encouraging that 95 percent of Illinois corn acres have already been planted. While some acres will have to be replanted, high temperatures should help boost the growth rate of what has survived so far, he said.  Soybeans are further behind. Only 66 percent of the soybean crop was in the ground as of June 9 in Illinois, compared to an average 92 percent planted by this time in recent years."

photo by Lori Mehman, Orchard, IA, June 10, 2008.  linked here.

posted June 17, 2008 at 7:10 a.m.

Ozone and Crop Yields.  Considerable attention has been given to potential effect of greenhouse gases on crop yields;  but some new research finds that elevated ozone levels can reduce crop yields.

posted June 17, 2008 at  6:40 a.m.