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By The Numbers 12/19/09

In no way should any of the following statistics be taken as a dig against the people who study wheat. Wheat breeders have done so much with far few resources than have been invested in maize (corn) breeding. Ya’ll are amazing.
  • Year in with the largest wheat harvest in the US: 1981-1982 (2.8 billion bushels)
  • Year in with the largest wheat corn harvest¬†in the US: 2007-2008(13 billion bushels)
  • The US’s share of global wheat exports in 1973-1974: 50%
  • The US’s share of global wheat exports¬†today: 20%
  • Percentage increase in yield per acre of wheat 1969-present: 45%
  • Percentage increase in yield per acre of corn 1969-present: 90%
  • Estimated earliest year a program to develop genetically engineered wheat, launched today, would be able to win regulatory approval for any variety of GM wheat: 2018
  • Year in which Monsanto’s patent on their first generation Round-up Ready Soybeans expires: 2014
  • Number of lawsuits filed by Monsanto against individual farmers it claims infringed on its seed patents in the past decade: 125 (same source as above)
  • Number people threatened with legal action to force a settlement/sued by the RIAA in the same time period: more than 28,000
  • Amount the RIAA sued the russian website allofmp3.com for in 2006: $1.65 trillion
  • The gross domestic product of India in 2008: $1.2 trillion
  • First time the world knew what the far side of the moon looked like: 1959

Check out the article in The Guardian about wheat farming and the future of genetically engineered wheat.

Sugar Belle Citrus and Patents

Mandarin Orange (Not a Sugar Belle)

Mandarin Orange (Not a Sugar Belle) from dungodung on flickr

We’ve been talking about grains and genetic engineering strait for a few days, so I thought it’d be the perfect time to put up a story about conventionally bred citrus. The University of Florida put out a press release about a new mandarin orange breed developed by Fred Gmitter, called Sugar Belle. The fruit is of course described as delicious and it may well be, I can’t say one way or the other. Importantly to a different group of people (producers rather than consumers of citrus fruit), the fruit matures 4-6 weeks earlier than other varieties of mandarin, making the harvest better timed to cater to the demand for citrus around Christmas.

Fred has been developing the breed since 1985, when he found the tree Sugar Belle was bred from in the experimental plot of another plant breeder who’d just retired. That’s twenty-four years of research and development. 1985 is the year “new coke” was released. Soviet and Western forces still faced off against each other across the Berlin Wall. If Sugar Belle was a person, it’d already be old enough to be in grad school right now.

The lesson here (one of them) is that it takes a long time to breed fruit trees.

But that’s not the only interesting thing about this story. (more…)