Richer harvest. A new model of crop yields will help predict the possible size of harvests, and help provide advice to farmers such as this woman in Indonesia Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Predicting the Bumper Crops of the Future

by Erik Stokstad on 17 February 2013, 2:23 PM

BOSTON—Farms in the United States are a miracle of productivity and the source of enormous exports of grain, but they can only do so much to feed the world. In many parts of the globe, crops yields are just a fraction of what would be possible if they had more fertilizer, better seeds, and improved management. A $2 million project called the Global Yield Gap Atlas, described in a session here today at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes ScienceNOW), is attempting to figure out exactly how much food could be grown on the planet. It’s a novel effort involving agronomists from around the world.

“Effort’s like this are badly needed,” writes Jon Foley, a global change scientist at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in an e-mail. “We know that the pressures of increasing food security will only get bigger as population and economic growth pressure the world’s food system,” says Foley, who is not involved in the work, “and understanding how and where yields can still improve is vital to improving food security.”

Other experts say the results will ultimately be useful to regional farm managers, national policymakers, and to food security experts studying global trends. In the session, one of the leaders of the atlas described recent results that suggest the ambitious goals are within reach.

Read more: Predicting the Bumper Crops of the Future – ScienceNOW.

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