CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The conventional wisdom that says the 20th century was a disaster for crop diversity is nothing more than a myth, according to a forthcoming study by a University of Illinois expert in intellectual property law.
Law professor Paul Heald says overall varietal diversity of the $20 billion market for vegetable crops and apples in the U.S. actually has increased over the past 100 years, a finding that should change the highly politicized debate over intellectual property policy.
"The conventional wisdom, as illustrated in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic, holds that the last century was a disaster for crop diversity," he said. "In the mainstream media, this position is so entrenched that it no longer merits a citation."
To support their conclusions, Heald and co-author Susannah Chapman, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Georgia, studied thousands of commercially available varieties of 42 vegetable crops from 1903 to 2004, as well as varieties of apples from 1900 to 2000.
"When we began this study, we started with the assumption that every year we advanced in the 20th century there would be fewer and fewer varieties offered for sale commercially," Heald said.
But when the researchers went to Washington to study varieties available in historical commercial seed and nursery catalogs, they were surprised by what they found as they worked through the years 1900 to 1930.
"There was no evident sign of decline, so we decided to step back and take a snapshot of 1903 and 2004, two years where others had collected full data on all important vegetable crops," Heald said. "We came to this with the exact same preconceptions as everyone else, but we couldn't ignore facts that were smacking us in the face."
According to Heald, the reason no one questioned the conventional wisdom of a crop diversity crisis earlier is that the narrative "resonates so completely with
|Contact: Phil Ciciora|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign