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Study shows hope of greater global food output, less environmental impact of agriculture
Date:8/29/2012

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (08/29/2012) Can we have enough to eat and a healthy environment, too? Yesif we're smart about it, suggests a study published in Nature this week by a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and McGill University in Montreal.

Global demand for food is expected to double by 2050 due to population growth and increased standards of living. To meet this demand, it is often assumed we will need to expand the environmental burden of agriculture. The paper, based on analysis of agricultural data gathered from around the world, offers hope that with more strategic use of fertilizer and water, we could not only dramatically boost global crop yield, but also reduce the adverse environmental impact of agriculture.

"We have often seen these two goals as a trade-off: We could either have more food, or a cleaner environment, not both," says lead author Nathaniel Mueller, a researcher with the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and a doctoral student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. "This study shows that doesn't have to be the case."

Mueller and colleagues used management and yield data for 17 major crops to take a big-picture look at how much water and nutrients it would take to bring underperforming farmlands to meet their food production potential. They also looked for places where fertilizer use could be cut down without substantially reducing crop yield. They found:

  • We could boost production 45 to 70 percent for most crops. The greatest opportunities for yield improvement are found in Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and South Asia.
  • Different inputs serve as limiting factors depending on the region and crop. Nutrients, for example, appear to be limiting corn production in Eastern Europe and West Africa and wheat production in Eastern Europe, while nutrients and water appear to limit rice production in Southe
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Contact: Todd Reubold
reub0002@umn.edu
612-624-6140
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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