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Article

Recent patterns of crop yield growth and stagnation

  • Nature Communications 3, Article number: 1293 (2012)
  • doi:10.1038/ncomms2296
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Abstract

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. New investments in underperforming regions, as well as strategies to continue increasing yields in the high-performing areas, are required.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the NASA and DOE of the United States, NSERC of Canada and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their support. N.D.M. was supported with a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. We also thank George Allez, Laura Bryson and Amy Kimball for their help in collecting and digitizing a portion of the data. This work was also benefitted from the comments of the Foley lab members, as well as editing by Emily Dombeck. We thank James Gerber for helping with Figure 2.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute on the Environment (IonE), University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Deepak K. Ray
    • , Nathaniel D. Mueller
    • , Paul C. West
    •  & Jonathan A. Foley
  2. Department of Geography and Global Environmental and Climate Change Center, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada

    • Navin Ramankutty

Authors

  1. Search for Deepak K. Ray in:

  2. Search for Navin Ramankutty in:

  3. Search for Nathaniel D. Mueller in:

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Contributions

D.K.R. developed the data with inputs from N.R. D.K.R. led the study design and writing with inputs from J.A.F. D.K.R. conducted the research. N.D.M. and N.R provided suggestions on the study design. N.R., N.D.M. and P.C.W. contributed to writing. J.A.F. and N.D.M. provided suggestions on statistical analysis. All authors discussed the paper and commented on the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Deepak K. Ray.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figures, Tables, Notes, Methods and References

    Supplementary Figures S1-S6, Supplementary Tables S1-S3, Supplementary Note 1, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary References

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data 1

    Data summary for all countries

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