Friday, September 9, 2016

Agricultural Bounty

The midwestern US is enjoying the prospect of bountiful crops during the upcoming 2016 harvest season. It is doubtful the corn crop has ever been taller. When the soybeans were in their full growth, I joked that some fields appeared as tall as the corn.  Bountiful appears to be an understatement. Both the US and many world countries have been enjoying bountiful crops since the Green Revolution arrived in the 1960s. Green in this context does not apply to its commonly used environmental activist connotation. In this case we refer to a startling revolution having past, present, and future life saving potential for the human race.

In the United States corn and soybeans are the two primary agricultural crops. In investigating the Green Revolution, we discovered that wheat is the third most important agricultural crop in the US. Wheat production has improved dramatically in the US, but perhaps the increases in wheat production in Mexico and countries such as India and Pakistan have been even more important for their well being and survival.

In mid-20th century the world continued on a trajectory of exploding human population. Dire predictions of world-wide famine were published because of concerns with food security. In particular, in the developing world the expanding population outstripped their ability to feed their people. The less developed countries of the 1950-1970 era were blessed by the work of Norman Borlaug who is responsible for what came to be known as the Green Revolution. Introduction of new, high-yielding varieties of cereals, especially wheat and rice, along with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation technology, and new methods of mechanized cultivation was a blessing said to have saved the lives of one billion people worldwide.

In Mexico agricultural productivity had fallen in mid 20th century, but new man-engineered breeds of plants and improved agricultural methods rescued their outlook for healthy survival. Peasant farmers abandoned their old methods and set Mexico on a path of food self-sufficiency. Mexico switched from being a wheat importer to a wheat exporter by 1963. Many other developing countries such as Pakistan and India doubled their wheat production, saving their countries from disastrous famine.

Norman Borlaug’s ancestors came from Norway in 1854, settling first in Wisconsin and later in Iowa. After spending years on the family farm in Iowa, he enrolled in the University of Minnesota. In the latter years of his education he became interested in plant pathology. Over many years he developed brilliant methods for producing high yield strains of disease resistant wheat and rice, thereby improving the physical condition of high population countries. The story of Norman Borlaug is one of tireless energy and inspiration. He was honored for his immense contributions to the welfare of man in 1970 as a Nobel Laureate. 

Borlaug’s scientific achievements do not connect with any apparent religious faith. His unique insights and abilities were manifestations of God’s gift of common grace—diverse gifts of God common to all mankind. Such gifts are an important distinguishing feature of man’s innate abilities as a manifestation of the imago dei.

Psalm 65:11 is a devotional exultation during harvest time: You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance (NIV). In a real physical sense we credit the record-breaking 2016 bounty of agriculture in the US Midwest and all the world over as a gift of common grace to all mankind. The special gifts God confers to all humanity in various ways is a manifestation of common grace. In contrast, special grace is the gift of eternal salvation through Christ. Defined this way, it is grace of an even higher value than common grace.