Agricultural Productivity

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Sustaining agricultural productivity growth is key to securing global food security. Much of InSTePP’s research focuses on the medium to long run dimensions of these problems paying special attention to the spatially explicit aspects of agricultural productivity, risk management and market performance.

Research Highlights

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Research Highlights

Modern wheat varieties are a productivity and biodiversity win-win

Evidence from a century of wheat varietal change in the United States

Agriculture is seen as both a key cause of the global “biodiversity crisis” and a principal means of addressing it. Many consider the intensive use of scientifically-bred crop varieties as the principal driver of genetic erosion in cropping systems, leading to a narrowing of genetic diversity in ways that expose crops to greater risks from pest and climate shocks. In principle, genetic erosion in scientifically intensive cropping systems is neither inevitable nor the most likely outcome. While certain trait uniformity (such as crop height, maturity date, seed size and composition) provides advantages in crop management and marketing, farmers facing risks from changes in climate, pests and markets are also incentivized to adopt new varieties to address complex and spatially variable genetics, environment, and crop management (GxExM) interactions to optimize crop performance. In practice, using a century of wheat varietal use data for the US, we show unequivocally that the choices made by scientists and farmers have led to an increasingly more biodiverse wheat crop that was achieved in tandem with a fourfold increase in wheat yields and a reduction in the physical footprint of wheat.

Citation: Chai, Y., P.G. Pardey, and K.A.T. Silverstein. 2022. “Scientific selection: A century of increasing crop varietal diversity in US wheat.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119(51):e2210773119.

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The Rise and Fall of American Farm Productivity Growth

Pardey, P.G., and J.M. Alston. 2021. Unpacking the Agricultural Black Box: The Rise and Fall of American Farm Productivity Growth. Journal of Economic History 81(1):114‐155.

Has the golden age of U.S. agricultural productivity growth ended? We analyze the detailed patterns of productivity growth spanning a century of profound changes in American agriculture. We document a substantial slowing of U.S. farm productivity growth, following a late mid-century surge—20 years after the surge and slowdown in U.S. industrial productivity growth. We posit and empirically probe three related explanations for this farm productivity surge-slowdown: the time path of agricultural R&D-driven knowledge stocks; a big wave of technological progress associated with great clusters of inventions; and dynamic aspects of the structural transformation of agriculture, largely completed by 1980.

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