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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: PREDICTING INTERACTIVE EFFECTS OF CO2, TEMPERATURE, AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS ON AGRICULTUAL PRODUCTIVITIY Title: Creating Abundance, Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development

Author
item White, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Crop Science
Publication Type: Literature Review
Publication Acceptance Date: January 1, 2010
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
Citation: White, J.W. 2010, Creating Abundance, Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development. Crop Science, 50:1094-1095.

Interpretive Summary: This is a book review of Creating Abundance (Olmtread and Rhode, 2009), which examines the history of US agriculture. The central theme of the book is that prior to the 1930s, American agriculture developed much more through biological innovations than through labor-saving mechanical innovations such as the Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper. Biological innovations included improved cultivars, changes in planting dates, burial or burning of residues to control pests and diseases, and the development of fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers. Researchers familiar with the history of crops such as wheat and cotton may wonder how the importance of biological innovation could be undervalued, but the authors cite sources that assigned primacy to mechanical innovation prior to the rise in corn yields in the 1930s. The thirteen chapters include introductory and closing chapters. The core arguments are presented in highly readable case studies that deal with the history of wheat, corn, cotton (three chapters), tobacco, California agriculture, livestock (two chapters), dairy production, and draft power. For each topic, the authors largely use historical narratives to document how farmers and society responded to numerous challenges. Overall, the book is well-written, although one finds occasional lapses into economic jargon such as “factor substitution” and “creating public good.” The information is backed by 50 pages of references, which are linked to footnotes on almost every page. Creating Abundance is excellent general reading for agricultural scientists interested in the history of US agriculture. The chapters on wheat, corn and cotton provide valuable background reading for anyone working with these crops. This book review should help researchers evaluate the relevance of a potentially useful resource that might otherwise be overlooked.

Technical Abstract: This is a book review of Creating Abundance (Olmtread and Rhode, 2009), which examines the history of US agriculture. The central theme of the book is that prior to the 1930s, American agriculture developed much more through biological innovations than through labor-saving mechanical innovations such as the Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper. Biological innovations included improved cultivars, changes in planting dates, burial or burning of residues to control pests and diseases, and the development of fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers. Researchers familiar with the history of crops such as wheat and cotton may wonder how the importance of biological innovation could be undervalued, but the authors cite sources that assigned primacy to mechanical innovation prior to the rise in corn yields in the 1930s. The thirteen chapters include introductory and closing chapters. The core arguments are presented in highly readable case studies that deal with the history of wheat, corn, cotton (three chapters), tobacco, California agriculture, livestock (two chapters), dairy production, and draft power. For each topic, the authors largely use historical narratives to document how farmers and society responded to numerous challenges. Overall, the book is well-written, although one finds occasional lapses into economic jargon such as “factor substitution” and “creating public good.” The information is backed by 50 pages of references, which are linked to footnotes on almost every page. Creating Abundance is excellent general reading for agricultural scientists interested in the history of US agriculture. The chapters on wheat, corn and cotton provide valuable background reading for anyone working with these crops.

Last Modified: 11/22/2014
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