Breeding uniformity and banking diversity: The genescapes of industrial agriculture, 1935-1970
In the mid-twentieth century, American agriculturists began to fret about a growing threat to key economic crops: the loss or extinction of manifold local varieties, or landraces, resulting from the displacement of these in cultivation by recently introduced varieties that were better suited for industrial-style agriculture. Many breeders considered diverse landraces to be a valuable, and indeed essential, source of genetic material for their crop improvement efforts - and therefore an essential resource for the very system of agricultural production that appeared to threaten their continued existence. This paper explores how knowledge of this dilemma - that is, the reliance of industrial agriculture on genetic diversity that it tends to destroy - shaped efforts to conserve biological diversity and simultaneously shaped the landscapes and genescapes of twentieth-century agriculture. It takes maize (corn) as its central example, as it was changes in the landscapes of maize production, first in the United States and then across Latin America, which spurred an early international collaboration for the preservation of crop genetic diversity. As it shows with reference to this program and subsequent international developments in the conservation of crop diversity, the technology of the 'seed bank' was considered a crucial addition to the technologies of industrial agricultural production. It was understood to allow breeders to continue responsibly in the creation of high-yielding but ecologically vulnerable inbred crops by lessening the perceived risks inherent in the un-diverse landscapes of industrial monocrop agriculture.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 April 2017
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