Back in 1875 when state agricultural experiment station was established, one farmer could produces food for 50 Americans and for world export.
In the future he will be called on to produce even more, says Dr. Doyle Chambers,director, Louisiana State University Agricultral Experiment Station.
"But is that possible?" Chambers asks. "Some say that with present methods and technology we are nearing the upper limits of the number of people one farmer can feed. There are no longer vast acreages to be cleared for agricultural production. There is no longer a surplus of cheap labor for farming. There are no longer unlimited supplies of inexpensive fossil fuels, fertilizers and effective pesticides."
Speaking before the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. John C. Brown, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Md., said he believes adequate food can be produced for the world by breeding plants adapted to poor soils instead of attempting to improve the soils through fertilization. He cited as examples the success that has been achieved with sboybeans, corns and other crops. In Mexico a strain of wheat has been developed that weill produce well on acid soil.
"I think we are in a new era as far as plant nutrition is concerned," Brown said.
Dr. Merl N. Christiansen, also of ARS, Beltsville, said that only 7 or 8 per cent of the world's land is being used for food and fiber production and that Brown's suggestion could increase the percentage by about 2 per cent.
"As a result we could put off the spectre of starvation in the world for maybe another century," he said.
Not enough is being done to increase the nutritional value of crops consumed largely by humans, Dr. John F. Kelly, University of Florida Institute of FOod and Agricultural Science, said in a recent research report.
"The technology exists to improve the yield of most crops. In doing so protein content may drop slightly, but the increased yield would more than make up for it."
A big crop improvement can be achieved through plant breeding, said Dr. E. A. Borchers, director, Virginia Tech Trucka dn Ornamentals Research Station, Norfolk, in a recent research report.
"Before the human agricultural age," he said, "a type of plant breeding was occuring naturally for many thousands of years. Mutation and intercrossing coupled with natural selection produced a tremendous diversity of palnt species and subspecies.
"It is this reservoir of plant material, along with the crop varieties developed by man up until the presetn, that provides the modern plant breeder with the raw material to produce the new varieties required to meet the needs of modern civilization. The plant breeder's function is to exert selection pressure on existing plant populations or those that he creates by making controlled crosses.
"Thus, improved crop varieties can be produced in a few years rather than the hundreds of thousands of years that might be required by the process of natural selection. Improvement might take the form of higher yield, disease or insect resistance, earlier maturity, larger fruit size, better appearance, better eating quality or one or more of many other characteristics."