The FAO estimates that the global population will reach 9 billion by 2050, resulting in a need to essentially double food production. Despite increasing demands on agriculture, resources such as land and water are limited.
Plant breeders and farmers have made progress over the past century in improving yields. For example, according to USDA data, in 1960, the average maize yield in the United States was around 55 bushels/acre (3.43 metric tons per HA), today average yield is 160 bushels/acre (10.05 metric tons/HA). During the same time, average maize yield in China went from 16.3 bushels/acre (1.02 metric tons/HA) to 86 bushels/acre today (5.39 metric tons/HA). In order to meet the needs of the growing population, researchers must continue be innovative – and use all of the available tools to improve productivity and profitability for farmers and to increase food, health and environmental security for all.
To better understand the differences between maize yield in the United States and China, 19 scientists from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the Institute of Crop Science at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the Institute of Cereal Crops, Xinjiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, collaborated on a research project that compared yield rates from U.S. and Chinese germplasm widely grown in either country between 1960 and 2001.
The researchers grew conventional (non-transgenic) hybrids side by side in small research plots. Today, planting densities in the U.S. and China vary widely, so plots were planted with varying planting densities to reflect these different agricultural practices and breeding conditions.
Planting density is important to overall productivity. Researchers concluded from the study that U.S. maize germplasm, which has been bred for higher density planting is more able to survive under stress conditions of high density, than Chinese germplasm. The Chinese maize hybrids also included maize germplasm that had initially been developed in the U.S. but this was now relatively old germplasm. Researchers concluded that agricultural productivity in China can benefit significantly from improving maize germplasm and moving toward higher planting densities.
Innovative and robust breeding and research programs are key to improving agricultural productivity, enabling growers to meet the increasing demands from a growing population.
Planting density has a significant impact on yield. Maize research programs which include breeding under modern growing conditions to increase yield can have an important impact on the productivity of crops:
- Such programs allow breeders to capitalize on the incredible amount of natural variation in maize to deliver higher yielding products for growers under varying conditions.
- U.S. hybrids, which have been bred for increased planting density are capable of achieving high yields for growers.
- This productivity increase may be replicated in other countries with a committed research effort.
Chinese maize agricultural production can rapidly and significantly benefit from adopting breeding and agronomic strategies that allow for improved yield under higher planting densities.
Photo provided by the authors
Increasing Maize Productivity in China by Planting Hybrids with Germplasm that Responds Favorably to Higher Planting Densities
Yu Li, Xinglin Ma, Tianyu Wang,* Yongxiao Li, Cheng Liu, Zhizhai Liu, Baocheng Sun, Yunsu Shi, Yanchun Song, Mario Carlone, David Bubeck, Hans Bhardwaj, David Whitaker, William Wilson, Elizabeth Jones, Kevin Wright, Shuku Sun, William Niebur, and Stephen Smith
doi: 10.2135/cropsci2011.03.0148; Published online 11 Aug. 2011