Can Corn Save Humanity in the Event of an Environmental Collapse?

In an agrarian town in the western region of the United States, only a mere few thousand inhabitants reside. The most esteemed communal pursuit among the town’s denizens is the weekly spectacle of baseball.

Bob, an exceptional outfielder within the town, had always delivered an extraordinary performance for the fervent spectators whenever he graced the field. However, on this occasion, Bob faltered. He removed his sunglasses and fixated upon the western horizon with a vacant stare.

Unbeknownst to him, a vast cloud of dust was advancing from the west, encroaching upon the baseball field. With composure, the townsfolk donned masks and goggles, orderly evacuating the premises. Those who sought refuge within their dwellings securely sealed their doors and windows, while the farmers on the outskirts, bereft of time to flee, sought sanctuary amidst the dense maze of cornfields to evade the onslaught of the sandstorm.

Following the tempest, the entire town lay shrouded beneath a thick blanket of sand, save for the resolute corn crops that still stood tall on the outskirts, seemingly impervious to the calamitous vicissitudes that beset their surroundings.

This narrative unfolds as a poignant vignette within the 2014 science fiction blockbuster “Interstellar.” Within this cinematic masterpiece, the dust storm epitomizes not solely a meteorological catastrophe befalling this diminutive town, but rather an affliction plaguing the entire planet. Unrestrained human activities have precipitated the complete degradation of the ecological milieu, resulting in severe desertification of the land, where sandstorms have become an ordinary occurrence in every corner of the globe.

More dire than global desertification is the imminent extinction of all crops, apart from corn, due to a pernicious fungus known as Fusarium wilt. Corn stands as humanity’s solitary sustenance amidst the apocalyptic collapse of the environment.

Consequently, can corn genuinely assume the mantle of humanity’s salvation in the face of environmental cataclysm? To address this query, let us first peruse some factual data.

In 2010, within the rural town of Gore, situated on the South Island of New Zealand, an unparalleled feat was accomplished. Otama Farm, nestled within this town, set a world record by yielding 1042.4 kilograms of wheat per acre. Despite the passage of a decade, this record remains unbroken, with a ton per acre essentially becoming the zenith of wheat production capacity.

In 2017, Academician Yuan Longping’s research team developed the extraordinary hybrid rice strain named “Xiangliangyou 900.” Within the Super Hybrid Rice Demonstration Base of the Silicon Valley Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Hebei Province, the aforementioned variety achieved an average yield of 1149.02 kilograms per acre, thus establishing an enduring record for rice productivity.

This record, unassailed to this day, has yet to be surpassed.

Now, let us scrutinize the world record for corn production. In 2019, the triumphant farm in the U.S. corn yield competition attained an average yield of 2,576.48 kilograms per acre.

Upon analyzing this data, one must acknowledge that the yields of rice and wheat are by no means inferior to those of corn. According to statistics from my country’s 2020 Statistical Yearbook, the per capita grain consumption of Chinese citizens amounts to 210 kilograms. In essence, the harvest from the most fecund cornfield suffices to sustain twelve adults for an entire year.

Nevertheless, a mere comparison of yields does not suffice to confer preeminence upon corn. For corn to assume the mantle of the doomsday crop depicted in “Interstellar,” it must exhibit unwavering resilience in the face of arduous circumstances. One of corn’s distinguishing attributes lies in its extraordinary capacity to endure both drought and scorching temperatures.

However, despite its tenacity, corn remains a cultivated plant. In the absence of human intervention, corn cannot survive autonomously in the natural environment.

Corn kernels possess no inherent propensity to detach from the plant once they reach maturity. Devoid of this crucial mechanism for automatic seed dispersal, corn, no matter its robustness, would be unable to subsist independently in the wild.

Presently, approximately 600,000 square kilometers of land across the globe are devoted to corn cultivation. The seeds it yields sustain a vast populace, serving as a pivotal pillar ensuring food security. The fodder derived from corn stalks provides substantial support for the safety of livestock, while corn stands as a crucial source of biofuel. Should the apocalypse indeed transpire, it is plausible that corn may hold the key to humanity’s salvation.

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