In a study published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers from the University of Minnesota examined agricultural statistics for four main crops – rice, maize, wheat and soybeans – and found that global yields were increasing by about 0.9-1.6% per year. At this rate, production would increase 38-67% by 2050 – but it is estimated that an increase of 60-110% is required.
“Clearly, the world faces a looming and growing agricultural crisis,” the study’s authors wrote. “Yields are not improving fast enough to keep up with projected demands in 2050.”
Led by Deepak Ray from the university’s Institute on the Environment, the researchers also found that yields were declining in some parts of the world.
"Particularly troubling are places where population and food production trajectories are at substantial odds," said Ray. "For example, in Guatemala, where the corn-dependent population is growing, at the same time, corn production is declining."
The study’s authors point out that the projected increase in demand for food is due to more than just an increasing global population. Rising incomes have also led to rising demand for meat and animal products, which also compete for grain supplies, along with increased biofuel consumption.
However, the researchers said that there were opportunities to increase yields through better use of arable land and spreading best management practices. They added that part of the production shortfall could be met by expanding croplands, but this would have a high environmental cost.
“Alternatively, additional strategies, particularly changing to more plant-based diets and reducing food waste can reduce the large expected demand growth in food,” they wrote.
The full study is available online here.