An Age Old Question
Among the eternal questions mankind has pondered along with why are we here and to what purpose and how did life itself begin, is a seemingly more “down to Earth” question of how are we similar and how are we different and why?
This is of course the fascinating and endless debate about nature and nurture and causal or correlative relationships between how and why we are the particular and specific individuals we have each become.
There doesn’t appear to be any formula yet for how you get your child to possess a 99 MPH fastball or to progress into a World Class pianist or scientist. There are so many studies relative to twins and triplets where the same traits strongly prevail despite being raised separately by different parents in different locales. However, the opposite condition where two exact replicates raised in the same place by the same parents produces drastically different human beings.
Those countervailing studies are endlessly fascinating, because in part we are all human beings and we are all curious as to how our individuality produces us uniquely yet our conditions and dispositions in many ways make us more alike than dissimilar (even if we don’t want to acquiesce to possessing any of the herd mentality ).
What about studies involving thousands and tens of thousands of exact twin replicas where the genetics are exactly the same while the environment is also precisely the same?
Okay now we have shifted of course away from the human condition making it slightly less intriguing to the average everyday individual but very important and efficient to be understood and conquered by the Farmer. Crops are grown by the hundreds of thousands every year in the exact same fields and often with the exact same genetics (seed and chemicals). Yet one year may produce a bumper crop and another may be a relative or even absolute bust.
The issue at hand is the separation of nature and nurture and controlling all of the variables that contribute to that variation in yield. In Agriculture we hear a cacophony of voices claiming their particular brand of seed or fertilizer or pest control or even type of water is what drives yield upward. It must be very confusing and dispiriting to constantly hear that self-serving refrain of any and every Supplier touting yield improvement.
Frustratingly, even when a side by side comparison is done showing an improved yield from one treatment contrasted to another, there is always the lingering doubt that the superior performance may have been luck or timing or weather or myriad other variables contributing to one outcome or another. This might have been a better year or that may have been the soil or the wind or the evaporation or the seed type or just a good or bad year for growing.
It requires us to separate nature from nurture in order to begin to get a grasp on causal or correlative relationships between all the variables and yield.
It is absolutely true that nature is a big determinant upon the outcome of any particular season’s crop yield. Little pesky things like seed genetics, water, sunshine, wind and weather do play a big role. So let’s set weather aside for a moment while we work toward harnessing technology to control that too (and with the new Global Climate agreements recently concluded in Paris, we can readily see the planet’s weather is almost already within our greedy little grasp).
If nature is for the moment uncontrollable, it is also true that nurture is not uncontrollable and the behaviors we use that are determinant upon human strategies and actions are real, tangible, measurable and controllable. In other words, how we nurture the crop is both within our control and very impactful on whether or not the yield is truly the best it could and should be, within the constraints of as yet un-tamed nature.
The good news is that we now know the most salient impact upon positive yield influence is simply feeding the active root zone. Unlike humans, crops feed by extracting nutrients from the soil by virtue of their roots foraging ever deeper within the soil because they don’t have feet, hands and mouths in search of sustenance as we do.
With literally thousands of fields of experience, our data correlates to the highest yields belonging to those fields who simply had the liquid nutrients (water and nitrates) available to the root when and where (at depth), it was seeking to uptake the sustenance imperative to its’ growth and survival. It was not enough just to put water and nutrients on the top of the soil and hope they migrated down to the exact depth at which the active root zone was foraging (though by pure luck that confluence of nutrient and active root zone do match up serendipitously), but rather that those growers who knew where the active root zone was feeding and put the water and chemicals in that layer of depth more consistently than those who relied upon pure chance for supply to meet demand, got far greater yield consistently.
There are other contributing factors too such as not letting salts build up in the lower depths so as to impede the plants’ ability to uptake those nutrients in the active root zone but by far, the best yields attainable and within the Growers’ own control of how he elects to nurture his crops was simply putting their money where their crops’ mouth is. So not that hard and not that complicated but yield improvements of 20% and higher are routinely achieved this way regardless of which type of seed or chemical was chosen (though as part of the nature component these certainly have their impact as well).
So back to our twins and triplets, the challenge of understanding the nature/nurture components in them are far harder and far more intriguing. If you thought about their lifespan (maybe 80 to 100 years contrasted to maybe 100 days for a crop), and somehow you only put food in their actual hungry mouths by pure chance, you can imagine how stunted or even threatened their health would be. It’s like saying, I always put food on the table but if they don’t eat it, what can I do about it? Well if they had no ability to consume the food other than by it being near enough their mouth that they can partake of it, you would quickly devise methods to make mouth meet food in space and time.
The exact same holds true for crops; don’t just put the food on the table, ensure it is getting into their mouths. Your reward will be consistently and substantially higher yield.