, ,

"We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand"

— Oscar Hammerstein, "Oklahoma"

This morning I got up with a bee in my bonnet about sustainable
agriculture. And with a question, or I guess you could say a
series of questions. What I was curious about is what crops could
survive the best in the current temperate farming zones — those
that produce most of the world's agriculture today — if global
climate changes make those zones increasing too hot and/or dry
to sustain current levels (or types) of agriculture.

Crops need light and water to grow. We all know that. Crops can't
grow if it gets too hot or too cold. And they can't grow if the
precipitation is too little or if it is too awfully much at any one time.
Various crops have different tolerances as far as temperature range
and the amount of precipitation that is necessary for growth.

Here's a list of the most drought-tolerant crops:

  • Millet and sorghum
  • Multipurpose grain legumes (cowpea, chickpea, etc.)
  • Barley
  • Corn (Maize)

According to the Consultive Group On International Agricultural Research
(CGIAR), my source, rice and wheat must be way down on the bottom in
terms of dry sustainability, as they weren't even on the list. It doesn't take
a paranoid reading of the Book of Revelation to realize what will happen
if wheat becomes unsustainable in the United States or rice in China.

There is a lot that goes into sustainability, of course. Soil quality
and terrain are important. For areas that use irrigation, increased
temperature means increased evaporation and thus increased water use.
The environmental condition of the soil and water in general is a factor,
as well as its availability. And where livestock is raised, it is important
to tie in the raising of the livestock with agriculture in a way that has
positive results for both. You can find more information about this type
of thing at NSAIS (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service).
They have an extensive collection of papers available in both PDF and HTML

Incidentally, all of the major bio-tech companies are currently racing to
come out with genetically modified crop varieties that would be sustainable
in drought conditions. These scientists might work for corporations, and
they may be going about the thing in the wrong way, but they are still
smart enough to know which way the wind is blowing.

As for me, I think I'm going to change my diet some. I always did like
garbanzo beans (chickpeas) anyway, especially with a little vinegar and
oil dressing on them. In fact the most satisfying lunch I've had in years
was one afternoon when I was in school and had about a cup of the chickpeas
with the dressing and about 2/3 cup of brown rice on the side. Not only was
the amount of food about half of what I normally would have eaten, but I
wasn't hungry for the rest of the day.