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Symposium 2015

Virtual Library File - Increasing global crop harvest frequency: recent trends and future directions

The Challenge

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland co ...

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland could increase biomass production by only about 60% (Bruinsma 2011, Tilman et al. 2011). This may be achieved by, for instance, expanding cropland, changing diets, adopting more efficient agricultural practices, or by using current cropland areas more intensively. This choice involves trade-offs. For instance, expanding cropland into non-agricultural ecosystems may reduce other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, and release greenhouse gases. Therefore, intensifying the use of current cropland areas may be a preferred option. In fact, current studies are able to identify regions where there is a capacity to intensify agricultural production (Zabel et al. 2014). Measures aimed at closing the gap between production possibilities and current production, however, are not sufficiently addressed.

In many studies, the options to expand the area under cultivation or intensifying the crop yields of our existing agricultural lands are discussed. In this paper, another possible means for increasing global crop production is put into focus: increasing the frequency of global cropland harvested each year. Historically, many of the world’s croplands were left fallow, or had failed harvests, each year, foregoing opportunities for delivering crop production. Furthermore, many regions, particularly in the tropics, may be capable of multiple harvests per year, often more than are harvested today.

The paper suggest that a possible ‘harvest gap’ may exist in many countries that represents an opportunity to increase crop production on existing agricultural lands. However, increasing the harvest frequency of existing croplands could have significant environmental and social impacts, which need careful evaluation.