California Agriculture, July-August 2000
Volume 54, Number 4
On the horizon: Agriculture's new millennium
peer-reviewed research articles
Structural adjustment, resources, global economy to challenge California agriculture
by Warren E. Johnston, Harold O. Carter
California agriculture now faces perhaps its greatest challenges: to maintain productivity in the face of rapid population growth, compete effectively for global markets and manage increasingly scarce natural resources. Intensification is a dominant feature of California agriculture, evident in the increase in fruits, vegetables, nuts and value-added products. But risk is also substantially greater in the production and marketing of these crops than in less-intensive commodities. Agriculture must confront and deal with heightened public concerns about food safety, clean water, pesticide use, groundwater contamination, worker safety, open space and the long-term sustainability of scarce natural resources, ecosystems and species. Nonetheless, we believe that California's agricultural sector has adapted and responded to similar challenges in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Perspective: Is this California agriculture's last century?
by Steven C. Blank
Abstract Not Available – First paragraph follows: California agriculture is the most productive and efficient in the world. Yet it is slowly shrinking. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 1997 Census of Agriculture,California had 27,698,779 acres of land in farms in 1997, down 4% from 28,978,997 acres in 1992. The number of farms in the state fell from 77,669 to 74,126 during that period. Also, the number of those full-time farms (receiving all income from the farm) dwindled 2% to 39,267 (USDA 1999). This trend dates back to the 1950s. Why is California's agriculture slowly disappearing?
Growth predicted in biologically integrated and organic farming
by Sean L. Swezey, Janet C. Broome
California agriculture faces multiple environmental challenges, the result of a fast-growing population, the increased role of consumers in decision-making about the food system, a more restrictive regulatory climate and mounting evidence of agriculture's contribution to non-point-source water pollution. At the same time, innovative partnerships invclving growers, consumers, commodity boards, regulators and university researchers are exploring creative solutions to these challenges through biologically integrated and organic farming systems. Simultaneously, the agricultural biotechnology industry is experiencing phenomenal growth. The U.S. food industry's resistance to labeling products that contain transgenic ingredients is stimulating consumer interest in organic products, which prohibit transgenics. Based on these trends and the growth of organic acreage and product sales, we predict that alternative farming systems could comprise at least 20% and as much as 60% of all California cropland in production in 2025. Nonetheless, research investments into alternative biologically integrated and organic methods lags far behind organic product sales.
Transgenes are revolutionizing crop production
by George Bruening
The ability to cut and join DNA to create a new molecule and to insert into the crop plant the new DNA molecule as a new gene, a “transgene,” forms the basis of the most revolutionary crop improvement technology of the 20th century. The bulk of crop transgenes thus far commercialized were designed to aid in crop protection against insects and weeds. The first commercial introduction of transgenes into field crops occurred in 1996. By 2000 in the United States, transgenic soybean and cotton accounted for more than half the area planted to these crops. Cotton accounts for virtually all current transgenic crop planting in California. This article compares transgene-based and conventional pest and weed control for potential in improving food production, food safety and environmental quality. The capabilities of recently developed technologies suggest that the first decades of the 21st century will see additional, and more dramatic, improvements in agronomic traits through use of transgenes, new chemical control methods, and enhanced integration of new technologies into various farming systems.
Perspective: How natural is modern agriculture?
by Neal K. Van Alfen
Genetic engineering to improve quality, productivity and value of crops
by Abhaya M. Dandekar, Neal Gutterson
Over the next 25 years, we believe that the most significant changes in crops will come about by applying genetic engineering tools. Crops may be bioengineered to produce modified kinds of starch, oils and high-value proteins for better nutrition, medical diagnostics and industrial uses. For example, walnuts and peanuts containing healthier oils, along with oxidative stability, could become available to consumers. Seedless vegetables and other fruits should appear in the marketplace within 10 years. Oil-producing seed crops may be modified to create specialty oils for a variety of nonfood products such as detergents, lubricants, inks and dyes. Feed seeds engineered to produce higher concentrations of sulfur-containing amino acids could improve wool growth in sheep. Plants could be modified to deliver oral vaccines that prevent diseases such as hepatitis and influenza. Strawberries are being targeted by genetic engineering to extend their shelf life, and within 25 years fields may be planted with varieties that allow farmers to control the timing of fruit production. Although currently controversial, we believe genetic engineering will prove to be invaluable to the future improvement of agricultural systems. To enhance the competitiveness of California agriculture, government, university scientists and industry must work together to ensure the application of genetic engineering tools to improve crops.
Genetic engineering and cloning may improve milk, livestock production
by James D. Murray, Gary B. Anderson
In the past, procedures such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer have been used in the genetic manipulation of livestock. Advances in gene and quantitative-trait mapping will enhance these traditional animal-breeding approaches to improve farm animals. By genetically engineering livestock, scientists hope to produce animals with altered traits such as disease resistance, wool growth, body growth and milk composition. Laboratories world wide have produced transgenic pigs, sheep, goats and cattle, but currently the efficiency of producing the animals remains low and the procedure is expensive. Within the next few decades, however, genetically engineered dairy cows could become available. Cloning may also be used to duplicate animals with traits that are difficult to capture through traditional breeding practices. By 2025, cloning and breeding of elite animals could be carried out by companies comparable to those that now comprise the artificial insemination industry, which selects and breeds top dairy stock. The acceptance of genetically engineered animals by industry will depend on its economic benefits and whether consumers are prepared to buy the resulting products.
Advanced information systems to improve livestock management
by James W. Oltjen
Precision agriculture can increase profits and limit environmental impacts
by Richard E. Plant, G. Stuart Pettygrove, William R. Reinert
Precision agriculture is the management of an agricultural crop at a spatial scale smaller than the individual field. Mineral nutrient levels, soil texture and chemistry, moisture content and pest patterns may all vary widely from location to location. At its most fundamental level, precision agriculture is based on information management, and is made possible by a confluence of new technological developments. It provides the opportunity to increase profitability and reduce the environmental effects of farming by more closely matching the application of inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers with actual conditions in specific parts of the field. We demonstrated precision agriculture technology in a wheat field in Winters, and the farmer changed several of his management practices as a result. Adoption of this technology is limited in California at the beginning of the 21st century, but is likely to increase as growers come to appreciate the economic benefits it can provide.
Commercialization of university research brings benefits, raises issues and concerns
by William B. Lacy
New commercial opportunities, patent laws and federal policies, as well as growth in private-sector research and a relative decline in public-sector funding for agricultural research, have contributed to a changing collaborative relationship between universities and industries. While such partnerships have existed for decades, these new relationships, particularly in agricultural biotechnology, are generally more varied, wider in scope, more aggressive and experimental, and more publicly visible. Examples of UC-industry collaborations include Calgene at UC Davis, Ceres, Inc. at UCLA, and the Novartis alliance at UC Berkeley. On the benefits side, such collaboration may bring useful products to market, promote U.S. technological leadership in the world economy and provide funding and “hands-on” opportunities for students. However, concerns have arisen that such collaborations may narrowly redirect research agendas, disrupt long-term research and create conflicts of interest. For these collaborations to be mutually beneficial, the potential negative consequences must be monitored and addressed aggressively with appropriate policies, practices and organizational arrangements. At the same time, adequate investment for public-sector research will be essential for universities to be a strong and complementary partner.
editorial, news, letters & science briefs
New technologies are changing the face of agriculture
by James M. Lyons, George Bruening
The case of the FLAVR SAVR tomato
by G. Bruening, J.M. Lyons
Q&A: Developing nations key to solving global food, resource problems
by Alex McCalla
Sidebar: News from the UC plant genomics frontier
by Jill Goetz
Organics profit from premiums
Scientists study farm over century
Controversy over agricultural biotechnology continues