Improved nutrient and water management could boost crop production by up to 70% according to a report in Nature this week. The analysis describes the opportunities and challenges for producing enough food to feed the growing population while maintaining environmental sustainability. The study shows that some areas that can manage with reduced nutrients and irrigation, thereby decreasing the environmental impact of agriculture, but can still achieve increased yields.
Population growth and increasing consumption of high-calorie, meat-intensive diets are expected to roughly double our demand for food by 2050. Many crops, particularly in developing countries, produce considerably less than their theoretically attainable yields. Nathaniel Mueller and colleagues show that this variation is heavily controlled by fertilizer use, irrigation and climate. They identify the crops and areas in which yields could be increased with either nutrient addition or irrigation. In addition, they map where overuse of nutrients and water could be cut without reducing yields, in some cases still enabling yield to increase by approximately 30%. Such sustainable intensification could greatly improve food security with minimal increase in environmental effect.