Redrawing the global map of crop distribution on existing farmland could help meet growing demand for food and biofuels in coming decades, while significantly reducing water stress in agricultural areas, according to a new study. Published today in Nature Geoscience, the study is the first to attempt to address both food production needs and resource sustainability simultaneously and at a global scale.
The results show that “there are a lot of places where there are inefficiencies in water use and nutrient production,” says lead author Kyle Davis, a postdoctoral researcher with Columbia University‘s Earth Institute. Those inefficiencies could be fixed, he says, by swapping in crops that have greater nutritional quality and lower environmental impact.
With an innovative modeling approach, researchers set out to examine corn and soybean yields and optimal nitrogen (N) fertilizer rates. In their study, recently published in Frontiers in Plant Science, they uses a 16-year long-term dataset from central Iowa, USA, with a state-of-the-art simulator that modeled corn and soybean yields, improving predictions of optimal N fertilizer rates for corn. This has global relevance for food security and sustainable agricultural practices in light of future climate change scenarios.