Swedish Academy of Sciences honors Cassman

Swedish Academy of Sciences honors Cassman

Kenneth Cassman

The Swedish Academy of Sciences has named University of Nebraska-Lincoln agronomist Kenneth Cassman the recipient of the 2017 Bertebos Prize for promoting education and research in the food chain.

The Bertebos Prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry and is sometimes referred to by scientists as Sweden’s “Nobel Prize in Agriculture.”

The academy cited Cassman, the emeritus Robert B. Daugherty Professor of Agronomy at Nebraska and fellow of the University of Nebraska system's Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, for his key role in developing the concept of ecological intensification of agriculture production. “His extensive scientific production has great importance for applications in agriculture,” the citation stated.

The concept addresses how best to minimize the gap between the current crop yields on farms and the potential yield achievable by using the best-available technologies and knowledge, while minimizing negative environmental impacts. The Global Yield Gap Atlas that Cassman and his colleagues have developed provides robust estimates of untapped crop production potential on existing farmland based on current climate and available soil and water resources. Scientists believe maximizing yield is a key component of producing enough food to feed the world’s population by 2050.

Cassman said the award validates the importance of conducting research on the dual goals of raising yields and reducing negative environmental impacts. Research currently tends to focus either on increasing productivity or on protecting the environment.

“Going forward we not only have to maintain or accelerate the rate of gain in yields on existing farmland, but we’ve got to substantially reduce the negative environmental impacts,” Cassman said. “We’ve really just begun to start focusing on that challenge.”

The Green Revolution of the last half century has quite successfully raised yields, Cassman said, but some gains may have come at the expense of water quality and wildlife biodiversity.

“It boils down in a very basic way to massively increasing yields on existing farmland, but doing that in a way that doesn’t pollute, doesn’t have negative impacts on wildlife, and also maintains affordable food prices,” Cassman said. “And quite frankly we’ve not been very successful at that in the past.”

Last month Cassman, who has conducted research on almost every major crop production system in the world, was named to the Clarivate Analytics “Highly Cited Researchers 2016” list. Researchers on the list have generated papers that are in the top 1 percent of most-cited works in their subject area and year of publication.

Cassman’s most recent paper was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He and his co-authors showed that maximizing cereal crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa would still fail to meet the region’s skyrocketing grain demand by 2050.

The Bertebos Prize, established in 1996, is awarded every other year. It consists of a diploma and 300,000 Swedish kronor (about $32,600). The award winner also plans a two-day conference in Falkenberg, Sweden, the following year in collaboration with the academy and opens the conference with a plenary lecture.