The Fragile State of Industrial Agriculture: Estimating Crop Yield Reductions in a Global Catastrophic Infrastructure Loss Scenario

Glob Chall. 2023 Dec 20;8(1):2300206. doi: 10.1002/gch2.202300206. eCollection 2024 Jan.


Modern civilization relies on a complex, globally interconnected industrial agriculture system to produce food. Its unprecedented yields hinge on external inputs like machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides, rendering it vulnerable to disruptions in production and international trade. Such a disruption could be caused by large-scale damage to the electrical grid. Solar storms, nuclear detonations in the upper atmosphere, pandemics, or cyber-attacks, could cause this severe damage to electrical infrastructure. To assess the impact of such a global catastrophic infrastructure loss on major food crops (corn, rice, soybean, wheat), we employ a generalized linear model. The predictions show a crop-specific yield reduction between 15% and 37% in phase 1, the year after the catastrophe, assuming rationed use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel stocks. In phase 2, when all stocks are depleted, yields decrease by 35%-48%. Soybean is less affected in phase 1, while all crops experience strong declines in phase 2. Europe, North and South America, and parts of India, China, and Indonesia face major yield reductions, potentially up to 75%, while most African countries are less affected. These findings underscore the necessity for preparation by highlighting the vulnerability of the food system.

Keywords: electrical grid; food security; global catastrophic infrastructure loss; global catastrophic risks; solar storm.