Ag productivity growth is too slow, report says

Agricultural productivity growth, a measure of the increased output of crops and livestock with existing or fewer inputs, is not keeping pace with global demands, according to the newly released 2019 Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report.

Agricultural productivity growth is growing globally at an average annual rate of 1.63%. However, the report’s GAP Index shows that global gricultural productivity needs to increase at an average annual rate of 1.73% to sustainably produce food, feed, fiber and bioenergy for 10 billion people in 2050.

The report, which examines the pivotal role of agricultural productivity in achieving global goals for environmental sustainability, economic evelopment, and improved nutrition, was released at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa on Oct. 15 by Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While productivity growth is strong in China and South Asia, it is slowing in the agricultural powerhouses of North America, Europe and Latin America, the report’s authors said in a press release.

In addition, the findings show very low levels of productivity growth in low-income countries, where there are also high rates of food insecurity, malnutrition and rural poverty. Agricultural productivity growth in low-income countries is rising at an average annual rate of just 1%, the report warned. The United Nations’ sustainable development goals call for doubling the productivity of the lowest-income farmers by 2030.

“These productivity gaps, if they persist, will have serious ramifications for environmental sustainability, the economic vitality of the griculture sector, and the prospects for reducing poverty, malnutrition and obesity,” said Ann Steensland, author of the 2019 GAP Report and oordinator of the GAP Report Initiative at Virginia Tech.

Historically, productivity growth has been strongest in high-income countries such as the United States, with significant environmental benefits. Due to widespread adoption of improved agricultural technologies and best farm management practices, global agricultural output has increased by 60%, while global cropland has increased by just 5% during the past 40 years, according to the report.

Between 1980 and 2015, productivity gains led to a 41% decrease in the amount of land used in U.S. corn production, irrigation water use declined 46%, greenhouse gas emissions declined 31%, and soil erosion declined by 58%.

The report also shows that animal agriculture in the U.S. has experienced similar productivity gains, dramatically reducing the environmental footprint of livestock production. According to Robin White, assistant professor of animal and poultry science at Virginia Tech, if livestock production in the U.S. was eliminated, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would decline by only 2.9%.