National Geographic : 1970 Feb
people on earth. In the 8.6 seconds it takes the average reader to scan this paragraph, someone somewhere dies of starvation or of disease stemming from malnutrition. Many view darkly the race between man's fertility and that of the soil. Others see hope in the fact that the land surface of the earth receives enough energy from the sun every day to grow-theoretically at least-enough food for more than sixteen times our current numbers. Most of the world's farmers till the soil with methods little changed in a thousand years. The spread of modern agricul ture can help assure the underdeveloped two-thirds of the world the freedom from hunger it gives the economically advanced one-third. It can help us buy time against world famine while we press efforts to control the mounting popula tion. As Dr. George W. Irving, Jr., research administrator of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, put it: "Our agricultural revolution is setting up things so that other nations can telescope what we have done." And he pointed to Mexican wheat and Philippine rice as examples of how our revolution is spreading. Tailor-made Grains for Hungry Lands Mexico used to import wheat, its farmers scratching only eight or ten bushels an acre out of their fields. Then a program supported by the Rockefeller Foundation crossed Mexican wheats with a dwarf Japanese strain. Slowly at first, then bur geoning, use of resulting varieties spread. In little more than a decade Mexico became a wheat exporter; farmers could brag of yields of more than forty bushels an acre. Mexican wheat, crossed in Pakistan with native strains adapted to local soil and climate, has revolutionized grain production in that part of Asia.* Ford Foundation and Rockefeller funds have made possible an equally dramatic advance with rice in the Far East. At a research center in the Philippines, scientists bred a strain they named IR-8. It boosts harvests three- or fourfold and can yield a crop in two-thirds the normal growing time.t Mexican wheat and IR-8 rice and their descendants aren't the only genetic developments with startling impact. In my travels I heard talk of tailoring cotton plants to grow fewer leaves so shade-loving boll weevils would be discouraged. And I saw how scientists and engineers revitalized California farming and saved a canning industry by creating a tomato plus a machine to harvest it. White-haired, genial Professor Coby Lorenzen, of the depart ment of agricultural engineering at the University of Califor nia's Davis campus, sketched the background for me. "In farming, as in industry, laborsaving devices make jobs easier and cut costs," he said. "It didn't take too much fore sight to realize that the stoop work of tomato-picking would one day be a prime target. My colleague G. C. Hanna-he's a plant breeder-first sparked my interest in the problem. "We knew we couldn't develop a machine to handle the *See "Pakistan: Problems of a Two-part Land," by Bern Keating, NATION AL GEOGRAPHIC, January 1967. tThis project was described by Robert de Roos in "The Philippines, Free dom's Pacific Frontier," GEOGRAPHIC, September 1966, and by Peter T. White in "The Mekong, River of Terror and Hope," December 1968. 154 Research, yeast of the revolution As anap ple nests on an electronic vibra tor, a recorder rolls out a mes sage that tomorrow's shoppers will welcome. Registering the passage of sound waves through the fruit, the instrument tells whether the Red Delicibus is too green, too ripe, or a juicy just right. When perfected for use by packers, the device could do away with the doubting squeezes that shoppers bestow on fruit. Here an agricultural engineer seeks to improve the vibrator at the U. S. Department of Ag riculture's research center in Beltsville, Maryland. Bare hands fleece a sheep painlessly in an experiment at Beltsville. Researchers give the sheep an anti-tumor drug which sometimes causes the hair of human cancer patients to fall out temporarily. The technique would call for care on a farm er's part to harvest his wool before it dropped off in the field. Frothy alfalfa juice bubbles in a freeze-drier at the Deere & Company Technical Center in Moline, Illinois (lower left). The center seeks a low-cost way to extract alfalfa's abundant pro tein for human consumption. Far-spreading roots of a soy bean plant are laid bare at the National Tillage Machinery Laboratory (lower right) in Au burn, Alabama; a squirt bottle cleans matted rootlets. Deter mining soil conditions that bring optimum growth helps agrono mists design better plows. In the unending struggle to keep research a long jump ahead of food and fiber needs, state and federal governments invested almost $500,000,000 last year, while private industry surpassed that amount.