Globally, arable crops are grown on about one-and-a-half billion hectares of which 17% are irrigated. Irrigated lands produce about 40% of the world’s food, emphasizing just how important this aspect of agronomic production is to alleviating global hunger. Due to population growth and the world’s population becoming more affluent, it is estimated that we will need to double our global food supply by 2050 just to stay where we are in terms of feeding animals and people. As we have nearly run out of potential arable land in the world, and as urban sprawl eats into prime arable farm land, all this has to be achieved on a land resource that can only be expanded by about 5%,. The other factor in the global food equation is the proportion of land that has been traditionally been used for food production that is now being converted to industrial feedstock, such as the use of maize, sugar and oil crops for biofuels. Clearly then, increases in food productivity have to come from increases in efficiency of use of our arable land, which translates into increasing crop production per unit of land.


The challenge is certainly there for all to see, and has to be achieved through reducing the potential of aspects that reduce yield potential such as weeds, pests and disease, water stress, and alleviating soil restricting components such as lack of fertility, soil compaction and soil toxicity components such as aluminium in tropical soils. The other side of the equation is to boost yields through enhancing photosynthetic potential and maximally convert the products of the photosynthetic process into economic yield. Really, crop farmers are harvesters of the sun’s energy, and we try to maximally convert this energy into usable crop yield, such as sugar or maize grain.


Crop scientists work on ways to keep on improving this process through minimizing the components that potentially lower yields, and boost aspects that raise yields. Of course we have to do all this while simultaneously sustaining, and better still, improving our natural environmental resource. To do otherwise spells disaster for the well being the world as we know it. Careers in crop science are thus challenging and satisfying, in knowing we are contributing to solving problems rather than creating them.

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