Agricultural death spiral

Based on our projections, the world will need only 25 percent to 70 percent more crop output in 2050 than was produced in 2014. This includes grain used to feed livestock and, to some extent, grain used for ethanol production.

I do like that “only.” In fact, and this is nothing new

Food production will still need to keep growing to meet our updated goal of a 25 percent to 70 percent increase, but at an annual rate that is closer to the historical average.

Which will be increasingly difficult, what with climate change, decreased investment in public sector agricultural research in general and plant breeding in particular, and all. Not to mention the fact that changes in consumption patterns, ably summarized in The Economist this week, mean that for some crops the boosts in production will have to be unprecedented. Which will no doubt leave other crops behind, surrendering hostages to fortune, at least until the rich world develops a taste for them.

In the end, I suppose, if we survive that long, we’ll all be eating a couple of super-productive varieties of quinoa grown in urban vertical farms. Brave new world.

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