Learn about the origins of agriculture, the evolution of crop modification and how we got the foods we eat today.
The evolution of crop improvement — Building on genetic diversity
Farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they have grown and the livestock they have raised since domestic agriculture began 10,000 years ago. Every fruit, vegetable and grain that is commercially available today has been altered by human hands, including organic and heirloom seeds.
In the late 20th century, advances in technology enabled us to expand the genetic diversity of crops. For years, university, government and company scientists intensively researched and refined this process. A major result has been GM seeds that maintain or increase the yield of crops while requiring less land and fewer inputs, both of which lessen the impact of agriculture on the environment and reduce costs for farmers.
See how crops have evolved from ancient Egypt until today in this infographic from European Biotech Week, and then journey through the last 80 years of modern agriculture with Crop Life America.
Humans created today’s corn crop
Over the past century, corn has evolved with the availability of hybrid corn in the 1930s and the planting of GM crops in the mid-1990s. Due to the insect resistance and/or herbicide tolerance of GM corn, more and more of it was planted. Contrary to popular belief, the development and increased usage of GM corn has not changed the physical appearance of corn.
What has changed, due to modern plant breeding, is size, consistency, seed performance, yield, the number of ears per stalk, and the position of the ear and the leaves on the stalk. Currently, a plant has only one ear located about waist high (the height of a combine blade), and its leaves grow at a more upright angle to better catch sunrays and rain. A century ago, farmers planted about 8,000 corn plants per acre. Today they plant about four times as many plants per acre.
The History of the Genetic Corn Crop:
10,000 Years Ago: Humans begin crop domestication using selective breeding.
1700s : Farmers and scientists begin cross-breeding plants within a species.
1940s and 1950s: Breeders and researchers seek out additional means to introduce genetic variation into the gene pool of plants.
1980s: Researchers develop the more precise and controllable methods of genetic engineering to create plants with desirable traits.
1990s: The first GMOs are introduced into the marketplace.