Scientists from the University of Minnesota and McGill University in Montreal say more strategic use of fertilizer and water could dramatically boost the crop yield feed a global population expected to double by 2050 -- and also reduce the adverse environmental impact of agricultural practices.
"We have often seen these two goals as a trade-off: We could either have more food, or a cleaner environment, not both," Minnesota researcher Nathaniel Mueller said. "This study shows that doesn't have to be the case."
Management and yield data for 17 major crops were used to analyze how much water and nutrients it would take to bring underperforming farmlands up to their full potential. Careful use of water and nutrients could increase production 45 percent to 70 percent for most crops, the researchers said, with the greatest opportunities for yield improvement to be found in Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and South Asia.
Closing the so-called yield gap on underperforming lands holds great promise for sustainably boosting food security, they said.
"This work should serve as a source of great encouragement and motivation for those working to feed the 9-billion-plus people anticipated to live on this planet in 2050 while protecting Earth's indispensable life support systems," Mueller said.