In the coming decades, continued population growth, rising meat and dairy consumption and expanding biofuel use will dramatically increase the pressure on global agriculture. Even as we face these future burdens, there have been scattered reports of yield stagnation in the world’s major cereal crops, including maize, rice and wheat. Here we study data from ~2.5 million census observations across the globe extending over the period 1961–2008. We examined the trends in crop yields for four key global crops: maize, rice, wheat and soybeans. Although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24–39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse. This result underscores the challenge of meeting increasing global agricultural demands.
The solid filled circles in each panel are the observed crop yields from various global locations to serve as illustrative examples. Colour codes indicate the crop. The solid curves are the statistical model fits to the data and similarly colour coded according to the crop type. (a) Yields never improved. (b) Yields stagnating. (c) Yields collapsed. (d) Yields still increasing.
At each political unit where (a) maize, (b) rice, (c) wheat and (d) soybean crop yields were tracked globally, we determined the status of their current yield trend. The trends were divided into the six categories and colour coded. We show in the maps only those areas in the political unit where the crop was harvested.
Deepak K. Ray, Navin Ramankutty, Nathaniel D. Mueller, Paul C. West & Jonathan A. Foley. 2012. Recent patterns of crop yield growth and stagnation Nature Communications3, Article number:1293.
Food security and land required for food production largely depend on rate of yield gain of major cereal crops. Previous projections of food security are often more optimistic than what historical yield trends would support. Many econometric projections of future food production assume compound rates of yield gain, which are not consistent with historical yield trends. Here we provide a framework to characterize past yield trends and show that linear trajectories adequately describe past yield trends, which means the relative rate of gain decreases over time. Furthermore, there is evidence of yield plateaus or abrupt decreases in rate of yield gain, including rice in eastern Asia and wheat in northwest Europe, which account for 31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production. Estimating future food production capacity would benefit from an analysis of past crop yield trends based on a robust statistical analysis framework that evaluates historical yield trajectories and plateaus.
Staple crops include cereal, oil, sugar, pulses, fibre, tuber plus root crops. The three major cereal crops are rice, wheat and maize. Slopes of the fitted trilinear models are shown when significant (Student’s t-test; P<0 .01="" i="">n0>
Historical trend (1965–2011, n=47 years of yield data) is indicated with the solid line and yellow data points, and associated linear-regression equation, coefficient of determination (r2) and Student’s t-test P-value are shown. Trajectories reported in publications that evaluated future food production potential based on these projected yield trajectories are indicated with the dashed lines. Numbers associated with each trajectory indicate the reference in which this exponential rate was used. The trajectory based on extrapolation of the 1965–2011 linear regression is also shown.
Fitted model for each crop–region case is indicated in parenthesis. L, linear; QP, quadratic plateau; PW, piecewise with (+) increasing or (−) decreasing rate after breakpoint year; LUP or LLP, linear with upper or lower plateau; EXP, compound exponential.
Patricio Grassini, Kent M. Eskridge & Kenneth G. Cassman . 2013. Distinguishing between yield advances and yield plateaus in historical crop production trends. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2918