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Last updated October 14, 2005

Issues and problems in modern farming
and the potential impacts of Woody Agriculture, part 2

Presently, the vast majority of world food is produced from a remarkably low number of crops and, often, from a very few varieties of those crops. This leaves humankind always at some risk, since it is always possible (indeed, likely) that new diseases will develop or unfavorable weather will occur, resulting in massive food shortages. Painful historical examples include the potato famine, the droughts in the Sahel of Africa, and—nearer to home—the wet spring of 1989, when farmers in much of the US corn belt were unable to plant their crops on time because of water-saturated fields, resulting in greatly reduced yields.

Stability of the world food supply

Woody Agriculture can make a large contribution to the stability of the world food supply in several ways. Simply introducing new staples into common use would be a great benefit; the more species are involved in food production, the more easily the food system can withstand momentary failures of any particular crop. A key goal of our work, in fact, is to demonstrate the feasibility of using woody plants for intensive food production, and directly stimulate similar domestication efforts in localities around the world, using as many different native species as possible.

In a completely different effect, Woody Agriculture can stabilize agricultural production because the deep permanent root systems of the crop plants are very insensitive to mild droughts or short term flooding, both of which can cause drastic or total crop losses in annual species. This same deep root system will also much more effectively capture any necessary fertilizers, resulting both in reduced cost to the farmer and greatly reduced (or no) fertilizer runoff.

Read more
Part 7: The potential impacts of Woody Agriculture, part 3: Global climate change & deforestation
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