Peak Oil Can Wait: Peak Food Beckons

Ansel Adams - Farm workers and Mt. WilliamsonPeak Food is a term you may be hearing more of in 2014. The Guardian via Raw Story reports on a new study published in Nature dryly entitled “Distinguishing between yield advances and yield plateaus in historical crop production trends,” but within are some worrying findings:

Industrial agriculture could be hitting fundamental limits in its capacity to produce sufficient crops to feed an expanding global population according to new research published in Nature Communications.

The study by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln argues that there have been abrupt declines or plateaus in the rate of production of major crops which undermine optimistic projections of constantly increasing crop yields. As much as “31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production” has experienced “yield plateaus or abrupt decreases in yield gain, including rice in eastern Asia and wheat in northwest Europe.”

The declines and plateaus in production have become prevalent despite increasing investment in agriculture, which could mean that maximum potential yields under the industrial model of agribusiness have already occurred. Crop yields in “major cereal-producing regions have not increased for long periods of time following an earlier period of steady linear increase.”

The paper makes for ominous reading. Production levels have already flattened out with “no case of a return to the previous rising yield trend” for key regions amounting to “33% of global rice and 27% of global wheat production.” The US researchers concluded that these yield plateaus could be explained by the inference that “average farm yields approach a biophysical yield ceiling for the crop in question, which is determined by its yield potential in the regions where the crop is produced.” They wrote:

“… we found widespread deceleration in the relative rate of increase of average yields of the major cereal crops during the 1990–2010 period in countries with greatest production of these crops, and strong evidence of yield plateaus or an abrupt drop in rate of yield gain in 44% of the cases, which, together, account for 31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production.”

Past trends over the last five decades of perpetually increasing crop yields were “driven by rapid adoption of green revolution technologies that were largely one-time innovations” which cannot be repeated. These include major industrial innovations such as “the development of semi-dwarf wheat and rice varieties, first widespread use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides, and large investments to expand irrigation infrastructure.”

Although agricultural investment in China increased threefold from 1981 to 2000, rates of increase for wheat yields have remained constant, decreased by 64% for maize and are negligible in rice. Similarly, the rate of maize yield has remained largely flat despite a 58% investment increased over the same period. The study warns:

“A concern is that despite the increase in investment in agricultural R&D and education during this period, the relative rate of yield gain for the major food crops has decreased over time together with evidence of upper yield plateaus in some of the most productive domains.”…

[continues at The Guardian via Raw Story]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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7 Comments on "Peak Oil Can Wait: Peak Food Beckons"

    • We are pigs.

      • moremisinformation | Dec 23, 2013 at 12:01 am |

        Pigs eat pretty much everything edible within their reach. The people in the article above are ignorant, wasteful and mindless. When it comes to food, comparing them to pigs is a disservice to the pigs.

        My family and most of the people I associate with almost never throw food out. We prepare food thinking about the leftovers. Whatever does get tossed, goes back in to the cycle and becomes next year’s crop. Like Buzz, we grow what we have time for and get much else from the local community.

        It is for these reasons and many others, that the, “all humans are stupid cancers on the planet”, meme annoys the shit out of me. I detest the magickal collectivist pronoun “we” and refuse to allow it, attached to things that don’t pertain to me, define me (this is not a direct assault on you, your post or anything you may, or may not have meant by it. Just an observation).

        • In my defense, I was referring to Americans, not humans.

          • moremisinformation | Dec 23, 2013 at 12:55 am |

            No defense necessary, from my end. I wasn’t insinuating (though, I suppose it may look otherwise) that you were blanketing humans. That said, ‘we’ is too large-a-blanket even for the people within the USA.

  1. tibby trillz | Dec 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm |

    for some reason i want to believe tht monsanto is involved in this and skeqwed the numbers so that they improve their public image and can also genetically modify whatever they want because they are helping us out, but im never going to research that and find a real answer. oh yeh, we’d save a lot of land if we stopped killing animals for food but then again, meat is amazing and one last thought, arent the suburbs covered with perfect soil plots that are used to grow some bullshit that looks okay and is inedible?

  2. BuzzCoastin | Dec 22, 2013 at 10:18 pm |

    I just created 2000sqft of garden space
    transplanted 20 banana starts
    started 50 papaya trees
    100 passion fruit vines
    15 cocos
    already harvesting salad greens
    my chickens are laying 12 eggs a day
    I’m not worried

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