Dramatic decline in industrial agriculture could herald ‘peak food’
Most conventional yield projection models are oblivious to the real world say US researchers
Industrial agriculture could be hitting fundamental limits in its capacity to produce sufficient crops to feed an expanding global population according to new research published in Nature Communications.
The study by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln argues that there have been abrupt declines or plateaus in the rate of production of major crops which undermine optimistic projections of constantly increasing crop yields. As much as “31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production” has experienced “yield plateaus or abrupt decreases in yield gain, including rice in eastern Asia and wheat in northwest Europe.”
The declines and plateaus in production have become prevalent despite increasing investment in agriculture, which could mean that maximum potential yields under the industrial model of agribusiness have already occurred. Crop yields in “major cereal-producing regions have not increased for long periods of time following an earlier period of steady linear increase.”
The paper makes for ominous reading. Production levels have already flattened out with “no case of a return to the previous rising yield trend” for key regions amounting to “33% of global rice and 27% of global wheat production.” The US researchers concluded that these yield plateaus could be explained by the inference that “average farm yields approach a biophysical yield ceiling for the crop in question, which is determined by its yield potential in the regions where the crop is produced.” They wrote:
“… we found widespread deceleration in the relative rate of increase of average yields of the major cereal crops during the 1990-2010 period in countries with greatest production of these crops, and strong evidence of yield plateaus or an abrupt drop in rate of yield gain in 44% of the cases, which, together, account for 31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production.”
To read the full report, please click here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/dec/19/industrial-agriculture-limits-peak-food