Current Cropland Area may be able to Meet Growing Biomass Demand through 2050

by Caroline Hays

With population growth and a growing middle class demanding more land-intensive products, especially meat, the ability of the world’s current cropland area to meet these demands is a pressing question. Studies have predicted that from 2005 to 2050, global agricultural production will need to approximately double. Cropland expansion to meet this growing demand has the negative consequences of decreasing biodiversity and releasing greenhouse gases. In a recent study, Mauser et al. (2015) note that sustainable agricultural intensification and optimal cropland allocation are preferred methods to cropland expansion for increasing biomass production There have been recent studies, however, that cast doubt on whether growing demand can be met without cropland expansion. Mauser et al. (2015) investigate the potential of cropland intensification to meet growing demand, taking into account a number of economic, societal, and technological factors in their estimates. They predict that, given multiple harvests and efficient land use decisions, the productivity of current cropland can, in fact, rise to meet projections of future demand. The authors find that 39% of the overall potential increase in productivity results from increasing the intensity of crop production, and 30% from redistributing crops across regions to their profit-maximizing locations. The major implications of this finding are that rising demand may not necessitate expansion of cropland area. Additionally, the authors’ model does not include genetically modified (GM) crops, and suggests therefore that GM crops are not necessary to meet growing demand. Continue reading