Organic food production cannot feed the world.

OPINIONS ABOUT the potential for organic food production vary widely. But Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug made it clear that organic food cannot not feed the world.

Ten years ago, Reason magazine asked Borlaug, “What do you think of organic farming? A lot of people claim it's better for human health and the environment.”

Borlaug's response: “That's ridiculous. This shouldn't even be a debate. Even if you could use all the organic material that you have — the animal manures, the human waste, the plant residues — and get them back on the soil, you couldn't feed more than 4 billion people. In addition, if all agriculture were organic, you would have to increase cropland area dramatically, spreading out into marginal areas and cutting down millions of acres of forest.”
(Source: Reason, April 2000 print edition; www.reason.com/news/show/27665)

The Corn Belt does not receive enough rain to support 300-bu. corn averages.

IF YOU want to raise 300-bu. corn, the crop will need about 33 in. of water for the growing season, available when the plants need it. Although average precipitation in many areas of the Midwest is at or above 33 in. a year, some of that water can't be used by the plant. It either moves below the root zone, into tile lines, or over the soil as runoff. And how much effective rainfall remains depends on many variables, including the soil, precipitation patterns and topography.

“Corn is relatively efficient in its use of water to produce dry matter, and it is not clear that breeding will be able to improve on this,” says Emerson Nafziger, extension agronomist at the University of Illinois. “It takes about an inch of water to produce 9 bu. of grain. While we may be able to improve on that ratio slightly, the basic fact is that when you bring carbon dioxide into the leaf you lose water, and there's no way to get around that.” — Mark Moore

Biotech traits have lowered pesticide use on corn and soybeans.

ADOPTION OF biotech crops in the U.S. has reduced the amount of pesticides sprayed by 357 million pounds from 1996 to 2007, relative to what might reasonably be expected if crops were all planted to conventional varieties, says Graham Brookes, agricultural economist with PG Economics. Studies indicate that average insecticide active ingredient use on corn fell between 87 and 89% during the period 1996 to 2008.

“Many of the farmers using biotech traits have experienced improvements in pest and weed control from using this technology relative to the conventional control methods previously used,” Graham says. “If these farmers were to switch back to conventional control techniques, based on pesticides, it is likely that most would want to maintain the levels of pest/weed control delivered with use of the biotech traits, and therefore some would use higher levels of pesticides than they did in the pre-biotech days.” — Mark Moore

Tractor engine power will reach a ceiling at 700 hp.

THE HIGHEST-HORSEPOWER, commercially available 4-wd tractor in the world is the Challenger MT900C, with gross engine horsepower ratings of up to 585 hp (630 peak hp) on the model MT975C.

So just how much bigger can tractors get?

Four-wheel-drive tractors are at or near the physical limits for both weight and size for trucking, according to Roger Hoy, Nebraska Tractor Test Lab, University of Nebraska. If tractors were to get larger, they might need to be shipped in pieces to be assembled on site or could warrant the need for escort vehicles, greatly increasing shipping costs. As a result, Hoy says, power growth will more likely come from more efficient engines and other components in comparable-size tractors.

Jason Hoult, AGCO, agrees and predicts 700 peak hp will be a ceiling on horsepower for tractors. “Beyond that we get into road and bridge limitations,” he says. — Jodie Wehrspann

Tractor exhaust
will be cleaner than air by 2014.

THE EPA is requiring yet another drastic cut of harmful emissions from diesel engine exhaust. Current requirements, called Tier 4, call for a 90% reduction in particulate matter and a 45% reduction in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 2011. A further 80% reduction in NOx over those levels is required by 2014 for 175- to 750-hp tractors.

“Engines will be putting out cleaner air than what they will be bringing in,” says Steve Meinzen, John Deere. — Jodie Wehrspann