Feed the People
Current projections are that the global population will reach 9-10 billion by 2050.
The challenge? The planet must produce “more food in the next four decades than all farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years.” Ernst van den Ende, managing director of WUR’s Plant Sciences Group (article)
We are going to require traditional food land and new production methods to meet the demand.
Over the past century there has been huge strides in agricultural production thanks to innovation in crop and livestock science, production practices, and equipment technology.
According to Stats Canada (May 31, 2017), improvements in seed varieties and crop management have increased crop yields, which made farms more efficient and able to grow more on less land. The average yield for all wheat increased from 29.7 bushels per acre to 53.2 bushels per acre (Table 2). This increase in yield resulted in Canadian farms producing 27.9% more wheat in 2016 than in 1981 (an increase of 6.9 million tonnes), but on 23.8% less land.
The conversion of some summerfallow land into productive land contributed to the increase in total cropland. As farm operators have adopted new tillage and crop management practices, the need for summerfallow as a moisture and pest management strategy has declined.
Also changing lower quality land to higher quality land through land improvements (stone picking, soil improvement, irrigation, fertilizer, tile drainage, etc.) has increased crop land.
In addition to improvements on traditional farmland, crops can be grown in other man-made and controlled environments:
- old mines – Vale’s Creighton Mine
- rooftop gardens – Montreal IGA
- underwater pods – Italy via World Economic Forum
“If massive increases in agricultural yield are not achieved, matched by massive decreases in the use of water and fossil fuels, a billion or more people may face starvation.” (article)
So yes, while it is possible to do more with less, we are going to have to do so much more that it would be wise to keep our options open and not pave all our best land.