Unstable staples

The cultivation of wheat is possibly one of the most important steps in the advancement of human civilisation. Wheat, a highly bred member of the grass family probably originated from wild grasses which would have thrived in post ice age conditions. To put its importance into context, two out of every five calories consumed worldwide come from a wheat product. Problems with wheat yields can be a major driver of food price inflation.

http://www.kew.org/science/ecbot/papers/nesbitt2001wheat.pdf A history of wheat production


Domesticated wheat grown under ambient carbon dioxide a.k.a bog standard wheat

Being a city slicker girl, I’d never given a huge amount of thought to the provenance of what I ate, aside from being mildly amused that so many of my favourite foods are grass derived. I’ve noticed that some foods have gradually increased in price but have dutifully absorbed the cost and moved on. There has been an increasing trend toward more extremes of weather, flooding events and droughts and the knock on effect of the can be and has been increases in food prices. Food security is a major issue for all, not just the third world. Today, Lisa Keogh gave us a lesson in food economics and the possible impact of changing climate.

http://www.ucd.ie/plantpalaeo/keogh.html Lisa’s bio


Lisa’s work has focused on growing both ancient and modern grain varieties under elevated carbon dioxide and decreased temperature. Essentially these are conditions which we may find ourselves living in in 80 years or so. Global warming, as we understand it, is a bit of a misnomer. The reality is increased heat energy does not necessarily lead to increased temperature and can in fact lead to cooling due to varying complex effects on ocean currents and precipitation.


Lisa’s research reveals that although there is a general trend toward greater productivity with increasing carbon dioxide, which would be expected for C3 plants, the quality of plant produced is dubious. Lisa’s wheat in particular looked very different to normal wheat, with some ears showing sterile underdeveloped flowers. Other plants had extra ‘ears’ or tillers. A particularly worrying result was that traditionally cold tolerant varieties fared quite poorly in the study. I was a little worried about these freakish, mutant wheat and I began to envisage a future where croissants and pasta are only for the über wealthy! Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing though. What s interesting about our food production history is that in pushing for more quantity, what we have ended up with is less quality. Although superficially increased carbon dioxide may seem like a boon to farmers, the nutritional value of what is produced may cancel out any benefits of increased production.


Mutant wheat….Mr. Burns would be proud


Guess the crop….hint: ready brek

http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/y4011e/y4011e0v.htm The future of grain production


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