Content ID


Feeding 9.75 Billion? Not So Difficult.

The UN forecasts a world population of around 9.75 billion at midcentury, an increase of 2.4 billion people in 35 years. The world’s farmers may find it easier than expected to feed that many people, according to a pair of analyses. 

For one thing, they’ve already met a challenge that size, say economists Pat Westhoff and Wyatt Thompson of the University of Missouri. The global population grew by nearly 3 billion people in the 35 years since 1980, a 63% increase. Yet, grain and oilseed supplies grew even faster, allowing per-capita consumption to rise. In many cases, this means a better diet. 

They calculate that global grain and oilseed consumption would rise by 47% by 2050, based on the current – but slowing – population growth rate and allowing for the same increase in per-capita consumption seen since 1980. “Supplying such an increase would, of course, be a challenge, but it would require a much smaller proportional increase in world grain and oilseed production over the next 35 years than was achieved over the last 35 years,” they wrote in an academic letter.

Westhoff and Thompson’s estimate is much smaller than the rule of thumb that has circulated for a decade saying crop and livestock production must double by 2050 to satisfy population growth and improve diets. Penn State professor David Mortensen and Mitch Hunter, a doctoral student in agronomy, say production has zoomed since 2005, so they took a new look at likely demand at midcentury.

“Given how much production has increased recently, it’s pretty misleading to continue to argue that we need to double output by 2050,” says Hunter. An increase of 25% to 70% would be sufficient.

The Penn State researchers see a couple of important implications for farmers. One is that commodity prices may not increase as much as thought in coming decades because of the smaller supply-demand gap. The other is that adverse effects of ramped-up farm production, such as nutrient runoff, will be smaller and hopefully easier to control.

“Even with lower demand projections, growing enough food while protecting the environment will be a daunting challenge,” says Hunter.

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.


Read more about

Tip of the Day

1-inch impact dolly cart

Socket caddy By welding lengths of angle iron with evenly spaced upright rods onto an old two-wheel dolly, I made a cart that holds my impact wrench... read more

Talk in Marketing

Most Recent Poll

Will you have enough on-farm storage for harvest?

I just want to see the responses
45% (25 votes)
39% (22 votes)
No, it’s going to be a bin-buster
7% (4 votes)
Maybe, depending on yields
5% (3 votes)
No, I am looking at new bins or temporary storage
4% (2 votes)
Total votes: 56
Thank you for voting.