Saturday, August 17, 2013

Diversity in Crop Production

Market forces accommodating producer demands for traits optimized for diverse conditions and environments and the risks they pose drive technological advances in biotechnology and plant breeding. 

Schap and young make this point in their 1999 Cato Journal article:

Enterprise and Biodiversity: Do Market Forces Yield Diversity of Life? David Schap and Andrew T. Young Cato Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1  (Spring/Summer 1999)

"At the root there appears to be a conflict between the efficiency of the market and the preservation of biodiversity. The conflict is real, however, only if the market is at odds with biodiversity. Does the market destroy biodiversity? We contend that it does not. Rather the market often can, and indeed does, provide biodiversity—both deliberately and as an unintended consequence of market forces. In the specific case of hybrid maize seed, we show that biodiversity is provided unintentionally both at the industry level and at the level of the individual firm. We explain that maize seed firms behave according to economic theories of monopolistic competition and optimal diversification, furnishing biodiversity as a fortuitous byproduct of their pursuit of profit."

Previous work in the journal Crop Science supports Schap and Young: 

''Diversity of United States Hybrid Maize Germplasm as Revealed by Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphisms.'' Smith, J.S.C.; Smith, O.S.; Wright, S.; Wall, S.J.; and Walton, M. (1992) Crop Science 32: 598–604

In addition to actual crop diversity, new technologies like Bt traits actually help improve the diversity of insect populations, as indicated in the following 2007 article in Science:

A Meta-Analysis of Effects of Bt Cotton and Maize on Nontarget Invertebrates.Michelle Marvier, Chanel McCreedy, James Regetz, Peter Kareiva Science 8 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5830, pp. 1475 – 1477

If we think of 'monoculture' and 'diversity' in a very strict and narrow sense, we might lead ourselves to believe that modern agriculture has serious problems. However, the real actions taken by risk averse producers that rely on a diverse portfolio of genetic assets to achieve narrow margins in a fast paced ever changing environment prove otherwise. In many ways, 'monoculture' is a myth. 

See also: 

''Hybrid Corn.'' Abelson, P.H. (1990) Science 249 (August 24): 837.