Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 19;8(6):e66428. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066428. Print 2013.


Several studies have shown that global crop production needs to double by 2050 to meet the projected demands from rising population, diet shifts, and increasing biofuels consumption. Boosting crop yields to meet these rising demands, rather than clearing more land for agriculture has been highlighted as a preferred solution to meet this goal. However, we first need to understand how crop yields are changing globally, and whether we are on track to double production by 2050. Using ∼2.5 million agricultural statistics, collected for ∼13,500 political units across the world, we track four key global crops-maize, rice, wheat, and soybean-that currently produce nearly two-thirds of global agricultural calories. We find that yields in these top four crops are increasing at 1.6%, 1.0%, 0.9%, and 1.3% per year, non-compounding rates, respectively, which is less than the 2.4% per year rate required to double global production by 2050. At these rates global production in these crops would increase by ∼67%, ∼42%, ∼38%, and ∼55%, respectively, which is far below what is needed to meet projected demands in 2050. We present detailed maps to identify where rates must be increased to boost crop production and meet rising demands.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods
  • Crop Production / trends*
  • Crops, Agricultural / supply & distribution*
  • Food Supply / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Population Growth

Grant support

Research support was provided by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and by the Institute on the Environment, along with previous funding from National Aeronautics and Space Administration's - NASA's - Interdisciplinary Earth Science program. This work also benefitted from contributions by General Mills, Mosaic, Cargill, Google, PepsiCo, and Kellogg to support stakeholder outreach and public engagement. N.D.M. was supported by a NSF graduate fellowship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.