Doubling food production

24 Jun, 2013 04:00 AM

THE maths are fairly straightforward - global crop production needs to double by 2050 to feed a projected population of nine billion - but the current reality is way off.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota analysed about 2.5 million agricultural statistics from around the world, and concluded that crop yield increases are far below the required rate of gain to meet 2050 targets.

The team, from UM's Institute on the Environment, looked at maize, rice, wheat, and soybean, which are collectively responsible for about two-thirds of the crop calories harvested around the globe.

Their analysis revealed that over the past two decades, average yield improvements for these crops only grew between 0.9 to 1.6 per cent per year, "far slower than the required rates (about 2.4 per cent) to double their production by 2050 solely from yield gains".

Troublingly for Australia, the analysis confirmed that wheat yield growth has declined across the Australian wheatbelt regions.

Although the researchers don't say so, the falling rate of growth in Australia's wheat yield has been influenced by a run of adverse seasons.

If current trends are projected out to 2050, the rate of yield gain in the Australian wheat crop will be negative or negligible.

The biggest rates of gain in wheat are projected to come from the application of technology in regions like China, north-west India and across the black soils of Russia and the Ukraine.

Overall, the researchers concluded, "there is a 90 per cent chance that the total global production increase from yields alone would be between 34-101pc for maize, 21-59pc for rice, 4-76pc for wheat, and 13-84pc for soybean by about 2050".

"Thus, if these yield change rates do not increase, land clearing possibly would be needed if global food security is to increase or even maintained."

Expanding croplands would come at a high environmental cost to biodiversity and carbon emissions, the authors noted.

"Alternatively, additional strategies, particularly changing to more plant-based diets and reducing food waste can reduce the large expected demand growth in food."

  • For more information on "Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050" Deepak K. Ray et al visit
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    24/06/2013 10:51:21 AM

    All the talk is about 9 billion people by 2050. What then? Does the world stop all reproduction? Shouldn't we be taking action now to slow the birthrate? With modern day birth control methods it is more a case of education in many countries of the world before humans reach plague proportions - if we are not already there in some countries. As David Suzuki has said 'Infinite growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite world'
    24/06/2013 11:49:17 AM

    So what. Can all those people afford to buy what is available, or does the farmer have to take a further reduction in prices so that they can? This is the issue that should be addressed.
    24/06/2013 12:29:36 PM

    I think Daw makes a very valid point, we are already at the point where food production can't match demand, population growth is the problem, but how do you reconcile that with the basic tenet of humanity or indeed any organism to reproduce. Unless something changes soon mass starvation will be the outcome.
    looking after home
    24/06/2013 1:36:05 PM

    Is this just a way to justify the introduction of GM foods here and for more countries to buy our land to feed themselves. How can it benefit Australia if we force our farmers off the land and foreign interests own the exports - who profits then? not Australia!
    24/06/2013 7:01:14 PM

    Farmers are one of the oldest cultures on the planet. It's the city based civilizations that have failed. There are good people in the cities aware of this peril, but are unable to get away. A time will come when farmers will have to open their properties to extended families , friends that mater, and people of good quality and disposition whose contribution would be an asset. The big cull was always coming, how soon will depend on how much power is given to the foolish that interfere with food production and probably the first to grovel at the farmers door. They won't be hard to spot.
    Ken Schultz
    24/06/2013 7:08:57 PM

    This argument lacks credibility, while our terms of trade continue to be eroded, and they are, there is no incentive for us to produce more. If you actually want more investment in an industry there has to be a financial reward that justifies the risk. Right now most farmers feel the risk outweighs the returns.
    Bushie Bill
    24/06/2013 8:25:39 PM

    I've told you before, I think, gabby; give up your day job and write crappy airport disaster novels. You would be so good at it!
    24/06/2013 9:11:18 PM

    it because the govt doesn't really want the family farm to survive. agenda 21, google it. all farmland will end up in the hands of the united nations in the name of 'food security'. war is declared on the middle class.
    25/06/2013 12:02:35 AM

    it needs to be looked at from an efficiency perspective - maize, rice, wheat & soybeans are not 'direct to end user' these are inefficient crops. we need to be growing more pulses, and these new ancient grains. a high % of the maize in the US goes to ethanol - to fuel our cars! not feed the population. less focus on yields etc. more focus on producing more efficient crops in the first place.
    25/06/2013 12:21:49 AM

    great article, but the approach is all wrong. sure higher yielding crops will help, but start focusing not on the crop yield, but the nutritional yield, the 4 crops focussed on in this article are highly inefficient foods. time would be much better spent producing efficient foods such as quinoa, beans, peas, ancient grains - higher nutritionally yielding crops!!
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