Researchers look at alternative sources of rubber

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. alter / ˈɔl tər / (v.) – to change something

    They needed to alter their travel plans due to unexpected weather conditions.

  2. mainstream / ˈmeɪnˌstrim / (adj.) – considered normal and accepted by the majority

    The comedian’s humor attracted mainstream audiences, making him very popular in the country.

  3. optimistic / ˌɒp təˈmɪs tɪk / (adj.) – believing that something good will happen, focusing on the good parts of a situation

    The coach’s optimistic attitude inspired the team to give their best in the game.

  4. out-of-the-box / aʊt əv ðə bɒks / (idiom) – remarkable or extraordinary, in a way that does not follow what is traditional or typical

    The architect’s out-of-the-box design for the new building won praise for its creative and unique quality.

  5. exacerbate / ɪgˈzæs ərˌbeɪt / (v.) – to make a bad situation or problem even worse

    Lack of sleep exacerbates feelings of stress and anxiety.


Read the text below.

Katrina Cornish, a professor at Ohio State University who studies rubber alternatives, raises dandelions and the desert shrub guayule in greenhouses at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio.

She and other researchers harvest the stretchy rubber substances they produce and use special machines to dip them into medical gloves, parts for trachea tubes, and others. And she thinks those products could forever alter the landscape of agriculture in the United States.

Most rubber comes from the Hevea tree and processing happens overseas—the U.S. isn’t prepared to process rubber domestically. But Cornish also says the threats of disease, climate change, and international trade tensions also mean that it would be a smart investment to work on growing and processing domestic alternatives.

Cornish thinks that just as Tesla opened up the possibility of mainstream electric cars by first marketing the product as a luxury good, premium goods need to be made with dandelion and guayule to inspire producers to grow more meaningful amounts of either of those crops.

But while some of the researchers and farmers are optimistic about the potential of these crops, they also say drastic changes would need to happen in markets and processing before we ever see fields full of these out-of-the-box plants.

In the meantime, farmers in the U.S. rely on an agricultural economy built on scale, so they farm the crops that allow them options of where to sell, said Curt Covington, senior director of institutional business at AgAmerica Lending. He added that the bankers financing those farmers often don’t want to take the risk of a full switch to a crop that doesn’t have established markets. That, he said, could be a problem for the country as climate change exacerbates threats to crops like cotton and alfalfa, thirsty crops grown in the Southwest, in the future.

Though guayule only uses half as much water as cotton and alfalfa, if the economics don’t support it, that doesn’t do the majority of farmers much good.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • What do you think are the advantages of being able to produce materials, like rubber, domestically (ex. independence from other countries, more jobs for citizens)? Discuss.
  • Why do you think it is important to look for product alternatives? Do you believe that all countries should prioritize this, considering the threats of disease, climate change, and international trade tensions? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Farmers are hesitant to sell crops without established markets due to the associated risks. What do you think are the pros and cons of only choosing crops that have marketing flexibility (ex. pro: farmers earn more consistently, con: limited opportunities for emerging alternative crops)? Discuss.
  • What do you think would encourage farmers to invest in out-of-the-box crops or alternatives (ex. financial support from the government, climate change)? Why? Discuss.