Plant Breeding before

The year 1900 provides an important but deceptively simple chronological milestone for analyzing the emergence of plant breeding science. Clearly it was an important year because three European biologists, Karl Correns, Hugo de Vries, and Erich von Tschermak, published papers that resurrected a study on hybridization in peas done over thirty years earlier by Gregor Mendel. A casual glance at any textbook in plant breeding written after 1900 shows that Mendel's concepts now overwhelmingly...

Wheat People and Plant Breeding

Selecting improved varieties of wheat from among existing wheat plants is an ancient art that dates back thousands of years. In contrast, the deliberate generation of new varieties by controlled breeding is more recent. Wheat breeding developed from an arcane art practiced only by a few isolated individuals into a global community of professional scientists in the period from about the mid-eighteenth century to about 1925, but especially from about 1875 to 1925. Wheat improvement, however,...

The Primacy of Yields and Modern Agriculture

Just as the Neolithic revolution was critical to obtaining higher amounts of food per hectare per year than in hunter-gatherer societies, the scientific and capitalist revolutions of seventeenth-century Europe were key events that shaped a complex series of changes in agriculture and all other human industries. From science and capitalism came both the methods and motives for constructing new methods of wheat production. For wheat breeders, the intertwining of science and capitalism created a...

Plant Breeding the Social Aspects of Knowledge and Development

Political ecology seeks to understand how and why plant breeders modified agricultural ecosystems and thus the wealth and power of individuals and nation-states. One key to this effort is how social processes affect the development of technical and scientific knowledge. A social constructionist perspective sees specialist knowledge as one of the many artifacts that characterize a civilization or culture. It focuses on the social processes by which people identify problems, search for technical...

Wheat and People Coevolve

Green Revolution Drawings

Many scholars have depicted wheat specifically and the Neolithic agricultural revolution in general in ecological terms. In outline, people are herbivore carnivore crea- Figure 2.6 Major wheat-producing areas of North America. Line drawing by Tim F. Knight. Outline of map adapted from U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, North America 1982 1 10,000,000 Reston, Va. Geological Survey, 1982 , 1 p. Wheat-growing areas adapted from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research...

Political Ecology as an Analytical Framework

Understanding the political ecological framework begins with a few fundamental principles. The key concepts are 1 that humans are components of ecosystems, 2 that of the necessity born of hunger, humans modify and harvest the productivity of the biosphere with agricultural technology in order to obtain food and other materials, 3 that humans create political economic structures to control the production and distribution of materials from the biosphere, and 4 that both the modifications of the...

Acknowledgments

Many people inspired, assisted, or in some other way enabled me to complete this work. I have tried to name all of the relevant people, and I offer apologies to anyone inadvertently omitted. Many people over the years have guided me into the intricacies of the agricultural enterprise. Without their insights and guidance, I would not have been able to complete this work. Several people consented to be interviewed in depth about their own roles in the events recounted here or about the part...

The Yield Transformation in Cereal Production

The need for food creates a relationship of fundamental importance between people and the environment. If we do not understand this relationship, we remain unaware of the critical dynamics that exist among human populations, culture, and nature. At the foundation of the relationship are the major cereal grains, especially wheat, rice, and maize, and the yields obtainable from them. Yields of cereal crops went up dramatically during the past 100 years, and especially since 1950. This book is an...

The Wheat Plant

Wheat Plant Parts

Wheat in everyday English designates a particular grassy plant that produces a starchy grain or seed. Most people think of wheat primarily in terms of this grain, which is used to make bread, cookies biscuits , pastries, and pasta. Consumers easily distinguish between wheat and other grains such as rice, oats, maize, rye, and barley as they appear in manufactured products or as ready-to-consume grain in food stores. In contrast to their savvy as consumers, most urban dwellers probably could not...

Early Traces of Plant Breeding

Patrick Shirreff

England provides the first traces of concerted activity by plant breeders, who tried to improve wheat yields. Thomas Andrew Knight 1759-18 3 8 is now generally acknowledged by contemporary breeders to have been the first, in the 1790s. Later wheat breeders credited Knight with being the first to make deliberate crosses between two different wheat plants.51 However, the most notable successes came somewhat later with the work of John LeCouteur and Patrick Shirreff Figure 2.7 . LeCouteur's work...

Outline of the Argument

This book sketches the development by plant breeders of high-yielding varieties of wheat, which was a major part of the green revolution. The story, however, could not be confined to the traditional borders of the green revolution. Changes in the agriculture of less industrialized areas were linked too strongly to events elsewhere to be understood in isolation. Highly industrialized countries also developed and adopted high-yielding varieties of wheat in ways that had important links,...