Important discovery of ancient farming technique could stabilize crop yields

As climates around the world grow harsher and more unpredictable, concerns about the food security of our world are growing, according to an RT report.

Indeed, the volumes of staple crops such as maize and wheat are declining in the tropics at low latitudes and in arid regions such as the African drylands and parts of the Mediterranean, and rich countries are far from immune.

Australia saw yields drop by almost 30% between 1990 and 2015 due to reduced rainfall.

While studying dietary diversity in 2011, ecologist Morgan Rowell, now at Clark University, stumbled upon a possible technique that could help stabilize crop size.

This once widespread practice is now used only by small farms in places such as the Caucasus, the Greek Islands and the Horn of Africa, and while it is quite simple, most of the agroecological community was unfamiliar with it.

However, farmers have been using this technique for more than 3,000 years in at least 27 countries, and it may have been what gave rise to agriculture in the first place.

The method is to grow the grains – a complex mixture of grains that can include rice, millet, wheat, rye, barley and more – and harvest them all together to separate or use as a single product.

Working at Cornell University, Rowell and his colleagues conducted a review of previous work, showing that maslin fillings gave higher stability under changing conditions, and by changing species composition each season, farmers could hedge against the effects of climate without the need for additional intervention.

“It’s this responsive entity that’s constantly evolving, working on its own outside of the farmer’s control to respond to whatever conditions happen, so, no matter what, you’ll be able to make bread with that,” says Rowell.

The process allows the environment to choose which species will thrive, and if environmental conditions continue to shift in one direction, the next season’s seed mix will also shift in that direction as well. It’s faster than evolution. If you have one weak species, it takes a long time to adapt, explains ethnobotanist Alex MacAlvay now at the New York Botanical Garden.

When a drought occurs, the resulting crop will contain the strains of barley that are more resistant to drought, and less wheat for example, but the wheat is still there to control it if there is a sudden wet season.

The researchers were advising to move away from monoculture, which could be beneficial in many cases, because growing multiple types of crops is much better for pest management, fertilization, wildlife health, and sustainability. However, polyculture is problematic for large-scale farming that relies on Machinery for harvesting and processing.

Because the same machine can be used to harvest every type of grain within the maslin blend, the scope of the process can be expanded, and modern industry has experience in sorting grains on a large scale as well.

Maslin still conveys many of the ecological benefits of multiple cultures that include entirely different types of plants, such as disease resistance and pest control that require less reliance on pesticides that cause all kinds of damage to wildlife.

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