World seen facing crop shortfall on insufficient yields in study

World grain and soybean yields are not growing fast enough to double harvests by 2050, meaning output may fail to meet rising demand without clearing more land for farming, according to a University of Minnesota study.

Based on yield gains in the 20 years through 2008, global corn production may climb 67% through 2050, while rice output would rise 42%, wheat 38% and soybeans 55%, researchers led by Deepak Ray at the university wrote in a study published via online journal Plos One.

Estimates for how much agricultural production needs to increase to feed the world in 2050 range from 60% to 110%, the researchers wrote. Doubling farm output by 2050 would translate into crop production climbing an average 2.4% a year, Ray and his colleagues said.

“Clearly, the world faces a looming agricultural crisis, with yield increases insufficient to keep up with projected demands,” study co-author Jon Foley was cited as saying in a statement on the university’s website.

The researchers found the global average rate of yield growth for corn has been 1.6% a year, while for rice it was 1%. Wheat yields on average rose 0.9% a year, while for soybeans, productivity grew 1.3% annually.

“Current growth in global crop yields will be insufficient to feed the world in 2050,” according to the University of Minnesota.

More efficient use of arable lands and increasing yield growth rates by sharing best-management practices may help lift production, the study authors wrote. Changing to more plant-based diets and reducing food waste could reduce the large expected growth in demand, according to the researchers.

Environmental Costs

“A portion of the production shortfall could also be met by expanding croplands, but at a high environmental cost to biodiversity and carbon emissions,” the authors said.

Based on yield trends, corn productivity would rise to 8.6 metric tons per hectare (2.47 acres) in 2050 from 5.2 tons per hectare in 2008, the study showed. Production could climb to 1.02 billion tons in 2025 and 1.34 billion tons in 2050, resulting in a shortfall of 247 million tons by 2050 compared to a rate that doubles production, according to the researchers.

For rice, the projected shortfall compared to doubling output would be 394 million tons in 2050, while for wheat it would be 388 million tons and for soybeans 107 million tons, according to the study.

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