How Much Land Is Used Globally For Agriculture, & Do We Have Enough Agricultural Land Left For The Future?

We’ve already put together a guide about how much land there is in the world, and what that land is used for.

But, in the guide below, we specifically look at the land used for agriculture.

We’ve also looked at whether there might be enough agricultural land and arable land left to produce food and other resources that will be needed in the future.

 

Summary – How Much Land Do We Use For Agriculture, & Will We Have Enough In The Future For Food & Other Resources?

What Agricultural Land Is

There’s different uses for the habitable land on Earth.

Land used for agricultural production (like livestock and crop production) is referred to as agricultural land

As a brief description, livestock can produce animal products like meat and dairy, and crops can be used for various uses like food, material (like fibre), oil, and fuel (like biofuels)

These all fall under the agricultural production category

 

Different Types Of Agricultural Land

The two main types of agricultural land are:

– Pasture/grazing/range land (also referred to as meadows)

Used for livestock rearing and animal product production

 

– Arable/cropland (also referred to as cultivated land)

Used for crop production.

There’s both arable land used for crops that need to be replanted, and permanent cropland for crops that don’t need to be replanted.

Arable land and cropland usually needs specific topsoil and land requirements (such as soil fertility and favorable soil conditions) to grow crops that grazing land for example might not have.

 

How Much Land Do We Use For Agriculture On Earth

Of the land available on Earth, several sources indicate we use about 38% of it for agriculture as a global average

One source puts that number as high as 50%

When looking at the different human uses for land, agriculture is the major land use, with forestry being second.

 

Country By Country Agricultural Land Use %

It’s worth noting that each individual country might use either more or less land for agriculture compared to the global average (i.e. each country might deviate from that global average %)

 

% Of Agricultural Land Used For Pastureland vs Arable/Cropland

Several sources indicate that far more agricultural land is used for pastureland (land used for livestock and animals) than arable land and cropland (land used for crop production) worldwide

That split might be somewhere around 70% for pastureland, and 30% for arable land and cropland.

 

% Of Agricultural Land Used For Livestock vs Crops

Agricultural land can also be broken down by whether it is used for livestock vs crop production.

Livestock is the biggest of all land users in the world according to some sources, and far outweighs the use of land for crop production.

According to some estimates, 70 to 80% of agricultural land is used for livestock, and only about 20 to 30% for crops.

Beef/cattle in particular might be be the largest land user at around 60% of all agricultural land. However, the feeding system (CAFO vs open grazing for example) can play a part in land use on an individual farm basis

 

What Happens To Global Livestock vs Crop Land Use % When Arable Land Used To Grow Animal Feed Is Taken Into Account?

Some arable land is used to grow crops (such as corn, barley, oats, soy, and so on) that become feed for livestock (instead of going straight to human consumption), which technically means it’s part of the total land being used for livestock production.

One estimate indicates that when accounting for arable land used to grow feed for livestock, that arable land and pasture land used for livestock makes up about 80% of total agricultural land.

About one third of all arable land globally might be used to grow feed for animals.

When breaking land used to grow animal feed down by meat, beef specifically uses most of it’s agricultural land for grazing, with roughly 10% for land to grow feed.

Different countries can deviate from the global average though – some countries use a significant amount of certain crops to feed livestock.

 

The Question Over The Efficiency Of Using Agricultural Land For Livestock

ourworldindata.org indicates that most of the world’s caloric consumption supply comes from plant based food, and most of the protein consumption supply also comes from plant based food as well (as opposed to dairy, meat and animal food products).

Some say this makes using agricultural land for livestock inefficient from a land use perspective.

But, it also has to be considered how much suitable land there is that is available for crop production in total.

If the amount of suitable land available for crop production is much less than the suitable land available for livestock, inefficiency concerns might not have as much credibility because most of the agricultural land can only be used for livestock production anyway.

Having said that, what we can see above is that cropland is also being used to grown animal feed, so there may be valid land inefficiency concerns in this instance.

This cropland could be used to grow crops that contain calories and protein that go directly to human consumption, instead of having to undergo additional energy conversion stages in the form of animals converting that feed into meat, and that meat going to humans.

Another point beyond this one is the nutrition of different foods – protein from certain meats might be different to the protein available from certain edible plant based crops for example. This is just one example, but the livestock vs plant based agriculture debate has several considerations and aspects to it other than just land use efficiency.

 

Land Efficiency Of Different Agricultural Food Products

Read more in this guide about how much land different foods and agricultural food products use.

 

% Of The World’s Arable & Cropland (Cultivated Land) That Is For Crops That Need Replanting vs Crops That Don’t

When looking specifically at arable land and cropland, majority of the world’s cultivated land is used for crops that need to be replanted compared to crops that don’t need to be replanted.

 

Crops That Take Up The Most Cropland Worldwide

Of the total land (in square area) used for crops globally, wheat, maize, rice and barley take up much more total and proportional cropland than other crops

 

Factors That Impact Where Crops Grow Worldwide

We’ve listed some of these factors in the guide below.

 

Countries With The Most Cultivated Land

India, the US, China, Russia and Brazil are the top 5 countries with the most total cultivated land in terms of kilometres squared land area.

 

Main Factors That Might Impact Whether We Have Enough Agricultural Land In The Future

Beyond the agricultural land that is currently used for agricultural production, there’s a question of whether there will be enough agricultural land in the future.

A few key factors that might determine the answer to that question might include:

– Population growth (and the number of people on Earth), and the wants and needs of that population (in terms of food, diets, lifestyle choices, etc). Calorie, protein and nutritional requirements will also be important

– How we use the agricultural land currently being farmed, and the impact of future farming practices/methods and technology on food production (such as on yields, productivity, and so on). What we can produce nutritionally per square area of land (in terms of calories, protein and other nutrients) will also be important

– How much of the land in the world that is suitable for agricultural production that isn’t currently being farmed on, can feasibly and practically be farmed on in the future

– How much agricultural land and soil are currently in a degraded state, and the impact that land and soil degradation have upon agriculture in the future (i.e. future degradation rates). The loss of agricultural topsoil might be it’s own specific issue within the overall issue of agricultural land being degraded

– Whether there are planetary boundaries on the amount of land that can be cleared for cropland

– Society side factors such as government policies and regulations, and so on

 

How Much Farmable Land Is Left On Earth, & Can It Be Used?

– How Much Agricultural Land We Use Currently

[Working from a baseline, according to ourworldindata.org, 51 million km squared area of habitable land used as agricultural land in the world]

Sciencing.com also indicates that close to the 50 million km squared area of land amount is used as agricultural land worldwide.

 

– How Much Farmable Land Might Be Left

Estimates put the remaining farmable land left at about 27 million square kilometers, and for crop production specifically, there might be 2.7 billion ha with crop production potential left.

This land might be located in specific geographic locations in th world.

 

– Possibility There Is No Suitable Farmable Land Left

Some sources indicate no suitable land is left to farm in the world because of constraint factors like poor soil and land conditions, poor climate and environmental conditions, a lack of infrastructure or finances in the area, or other practical factors.

At the very least, if this land could be farmed, it might be high risk, not be profitable, or present some type of other major practical challenge.

 

How Much Cropland Land Is In A Degraded State, & How Much Topsoil Is Left?

Some estimations say roughly 30% to a third of the world’s cropland is in a degraded state, and/or has had to be abandoned in the last 40 years due to a lack of productivity.

Additionally, agricultural topsoil is being lost over time, and some countries may only have about 60 years left of harvests in their remaining topsoil

 

So, Will We Have Enough Agricultural Land Left In The Future?

From a food production perspective, some sources say we do have enough land left.

But, it might depend on several variables (such as the types of food diets the population eats), and might be country/region specific.

Distribution of food to certain regions and groups of people might be a bigger problem than having enough food, or enough land to produce it.

Apart from food production, there’s also the production of other agricultural products like materials (such as cotton fibre), oils, and fuels to consider, in terms of whether we will have enough land left (although, majority of crop calories currently go to humans, with livestock coming in second, and less than 10% currently goes to biofuels and other industrial uses).

Read the relevant parts of the guide below for a further breakdown of factors to consider.

 

Factors That Could Impact Agricultural Land Use, & Land Use Efficiency In The Future

Below in this guide we list the factors that could impact ag. land use and land use efficiency in the future

It’s worth noting too that the factors that make an impact could also be local/specific to a geographic region in the world

 

Land Use Not The Only Consideration In Agriculture

There’s many more factors to consider than land use in agriculture.

There’s other environmental sustainability factors, but also factors to do with health and nutrition, just as one example

 

How Much Land There Is On Earth, & How We Use It

In this guide, we outline how much of the Earth’s surface is land, and how it’s used.

 

What Is Agricultural Land?

One of the uses of land is agricultural production.

Land being used for agricultural production is referred to as agricultural land.

It’s worth noting that land currently being used for other uses, such as for forestry, can be cleared, converted, and used for agricultural production.

 

The Different Types Of Agricultural Land

Not all agricultural land is the same, or used for the same types of agricultural production.

Suitability of the land, soil, climate, conditions and other factors can influence what the land is used for.

However, there are two main types of agricultural land, with different uses:

– Arable land/Cropland (sometimes referred to as cultivated land)

Land used for crop production.

Crops can be edible plants, but could also be used for material and fibre, fuel, and other uses.

Arable land is also used not only to grow edible crops for direct human consumption, but also to grow animal feed for livestock consumption (hay, cereals and oil seeds can be crops grown for livestock feed).

Arable land usually has soil conditions or other factors (such as soil fertility) that make it suitable for growing crops.

Some sources make a distinction between arable land which has crops that require replanting, and permanent cropland which has crops that don’t require replanting.

Wikipedia.org for example indicates that cultivated land includes both arable land, and permanent crops land. Arable land is land cultivated for ‘like wheat, maize, and rice that are replanted after each harvest’. Permanent crops land is ‘a land cultivated for crops like citrus, coffee, and rubber that are not replanted after each harvest’

 

– Pastureland/Rangeland/Grazing land (and also sometimes called meadows or meadow lands)

This is land used for the rearing, production and grazing of livestock/animals.

There isn’t necessarily the same soil requirements (such as soil fertility, topsoil suitability, etc) for grazing land, as there is for arable and cropland.

 

*Note – not all land can be used for agriculture. It can be dependent on local land and environment based factors like climate, rainfall, soil composition and suitability (as well as rate of land or topsoil degradation and erosion), rockiness and altitude, and more. There’s also practical factors like infrastructure, finances, and so on.

 

How Much Land Is Used For Agriculture On Earth?

A few different estimates of the amount of land used for agriculture (compared to other land uses) on Earth are:

One source indicates that of all the habitable land on Earth, about 50% is used for agriculture. This is the predominant habitable land land use, with forestry in second

Another source indicates that of all land on Earth, meadow/pasture land and arable/cropland together make up 38% of land use. This makes agricultural land the predominant land use, with forestry and ‘other’ land uses in equal second

 

Some other sources make some additional estimates about how much land is used for agriculture globally:

– Agricultural land covers 38.4% of the world’s land area as of 2011 (wikipedia.org)

– [… In 2016 … 37.4% of the world’s land area was used as agricultural land (worldbank.org)

– Right now … about 38 percent of the land on Earth is used for food production (sciencealert.com)

 

Agricultural Land Use % Can Differ By Country, & Deviate From Global Averages

In this guide, you can see the United States’ different land uses, and their proportions.

You can see the top three land uses are:

Pasture/range: 654 M

Forest: 538.6 M

Cropland: 391.5 M

Special use is in fourth at 168.8 M, with Miscellaneous and Urban land use in fifth and sixth.

What is clear from the data is that each country might use their land for different uses in different proportions i.e. the United States might have a different land use profile to another country.

So, different countries might deviate from the global agricultural land % averages.

 

What % Of Global Agricultural Land Is Grazing/Pastureland, & What % Is Arable/Cropland? 

Going one level deeper, we can look at how much land is used separately for both grazing/pasture land, and also arable/crop land, of the total agricultural land worldwide.

According to the data below, roughly 70% of agricultural land might be used for pastureland (and land used for livestock), and about 30% arable and cropland (land used for crop production).

 

From wikipedia.org, some stats on areas of the above types of lands worldwide are:

[Of the agricultural land that covered 38.4% of the world’s land area as of 2011 …].

Permanent pastures are 68.4% of all agricultural land (26.3% of global land area),

Arable land (row crops) is 28.4% of all agricultural land (10.9% of global land area),

And permanent crops (e.g. vineyards and orchards) are 3.1% (1.2% of global land area).

[Read more in the wikipedia.org resource for land quantities behind those %’s]

 

According to Worldbank.org, in 2016:

[Of the] 37.4% of the world’s land area [that] was used as agricultural land … 11.06% was arable land [and the remainder of the 37.4% was non arable]

 

26 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface is used for livestock grazing (smithsonianmag.com)

 

One-quarter of the earth’s land (excluding Antarctica) is used as pasture land overall (wri.org)

 

26% of the Earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface is used for grazing (globalagriculture.org)

 

Right now, the the FAO reports 7.9 billion acres of arable land in the world (plantricianproject.org).

 

What % Of Global Agricultural Land Is Used For Livestock, & What % For Crops?

Livestock is the biggest land user in the world according to some sources and far outweighs land uses for crop production.

According to some estimates, 70 to 80% of agricultural land is used for livestock, and only about 20 to 30% for crops.

 

[When looking at the 50% of all habitable land in the world that is used for agriculture …]

77% of agricultural land is used for meat and dairy production [livestock], and 23% for crops excluding feed

– ourworldindata.org

 

Satellite images … show …:

… between 32 and 36 million square kilometers (12 and 14 million square miles) used to raise livestock

… and roughly 17.6 million square kilometers (6.8 million square miles) used to grow crops

– sciencing.com

 

[Of the 51 million km squared area of habitable land used as agricultural land in the world, 40 million km squared is used for livestock/meat and dairy, and 11 million km squared is used for crops excluding feed (ourworldindata.org)

 

One-half of the Earth’s land mass is grazed by livestock

As a comparison, only 2% of US cropland produces fruits and vegetables

– earthsave.org

 

Livestock matters because it is the biggest land user in the world [with more land given] to grazing animals than for any other single purpose (economist.com)

 

[83% of the land used for agriculture globally is used to farm animal products] (wikipedia.org)

 

At present some 11 percent (1.5 billion ha) of the globe’s land surface (13.4 billion ha) is used in crop production (arable land and land under permanent crops) fao.org

 

What Happens To Global Livestock vs Crop Land Use % When Arable Land Used To Grow Animal Feed Is Taken Into Account?

One estimate indicates that when accounting for arable land used to grow feed, that arable land and pasture land used for livestock makes up about 80% of total agricultural land.

About one third of all arable land globally might be used to grow feed for animals.

 

Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and arable land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land.

One-third of global arable land is used to grow feed

– globalagriculture.org

 

[Of the 51 million km squared area of habitable land used as agricultural land in the world, 40 million km squared is used for livestock/meat and dairy, and 11 million km squared is used for crops excluding feed. That breaks down to a 77% to 23% split.] (ourworldindata.org)

 

One-third of the planet’s arable land is occupied by livestock feed crop cultivation.

In the United States, animals directly consume 95 percent of oat production and 80 percent of our corn

– smithsonianmag.com

 

Just 55 percent of the world’s crop calories are actually eaten directly by people … [whilst] Another 36 percent is used for animal feed … And the remaining 9 percent goes toward biofuels and other industrial uses

… in the United States … just 27 percent of crop calories are consumed directly — wheat, say, or fruits and vegetables grown in California … [and] more than 67 percent of crops — particularly all the soy grown in the Midwest — goes to animal feed. And a portion of the rest goes to ethanol and other biofuels.

Some of that animal feed eventually becomes food, obviously — but it’s a much, much more indirect process.

– vox.com

 

Beef cattle [produce the world’s beef] using about 30 million square kilometers (km2 ) of land—27 million of that for grazing, and the rest for the feed and forage they eat

[it takes] nine hectares of permanent pasture plus about three hectares of cropland to produce one ton of beef 

– ucsusa.org

 

What % Of The World’s Cultivated Land Is Used For Crops That Need Replanting vs Those That Don’t?

When looking specifically at arable land and cropland, majority of the world’s cultivated land is used for crops that need to be replanted compared to crops that don’t need to be replanted.

 

Wikpedia.org (via CIA World Factbook) indicates that:

– [11.6% of the Earth’s land is cultivated land, and 10.6% is arable land used for crops that need to be replanted, whilst 1% are permanent crops that don’t need to be replanted]

[See the wikipedia.org resource for the quantities (in kms squared area of land) that make up those %’s, and also a country by country breakdown of where the world’s cultivated land is located.]

 

What Crops Use The Most Of The World’s Croplands?

Of the land used for crops worldwide, some types of crops such as wheat, maize, rice and barley take up much more total and proportional cropland than others

 

What Factors Affect How & Where Crops Grow Worldwide?

We’ve already written a guide about factors that affect plant growth.

However, there are some additional specific factors that affect how and where crops grow, and the distribution of agricultural crops (and agricultural productivity) worldwide.

 

Factors That Affect Regular Plant Growth Can Also Be Applied To Crop Growth

Many of those plant growth factors apply to crop growth for commercial and industrial agriculture.

Some of these include:

– The type of crop

One example is that different crops have different growing season lengths like wheat for example which is 90 days.

Another example is that a crop like cotton needs a lot more water than some crops 

 

– Animals

Moths, weevil, locusts, aphids etc. are pests that can damage crops.

On the other hand, there are beneficial animal like certain types of insects that can control pests or contribute to soil health

 

– Secondary plant life

Other crops, trees, weeds

 

– Soil microbes

 

– The local climate

Average rainfall, temperature, and wind

 

– Soil type and amount of fertile topsoil

Soil differs from state to state, and topsoil depth and quality isn’t the same everywhere

 

– Geographic location

Different locations have different topography, and other factors like altitude and slopes that make them unique with their own local growing conditions 

 

– Other environmental factors

Sunlight, humidity and so on.

Natural land degradation (wind and water erosion of topsoil being examples) can be a negative environmental factor to consider.

 

– Human activities, inputs and factors

Inputs like irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, water etc. Activities that help with land/soil maintenance, or activities that cause land degradation like too much intensive tilling.

Crop care practices.

Other factors like depth of sowing, seed size, row spacing, seedbed preparation can all play a role.

 

Factors That Affect Agricultural Growth/Productivity, & Distribution Specifically

On top of those factors, there are agricultural factors that also play a part, such as:

– Land tenure

Farmers who own their land (mostly in the developed world) have far more incentive to be productive and efficient, and also have more control how they farm, compared to farmers who are leasing or renting the land, or selling their labor to work on someone else’s land (like in developing countries and poorer areas)

 

– Market

There must be a demand for a specific crop.

Cultural, religious and economic factors can all play a role in the demand of different crops and foods.

 

– Transport

The cost of transport, technology of transport such as refrigerated and cold food storage systems, and how far away farms are from market all play a role in what can be grown in a specific location.

For example, some developing parts of the world can’t grow perishable crops because they lack access to cold storage of food on transport trucks. 

 

– Capital

Money and finances to invest in farming and different crops.

Developed countries are going to have more capital to use or borrow.

More money also means more risk can be taken with certain crops, and new crop practices.

 

– Technology

Better technology contributes to higher yields, better efficiency, cost savings and so on.

Industrial and heavily commercialised farming usually involves heavy machinery and intense application of technology.

 

– Government

Government policy, regulation and action has a significant impact on the agricultural sector in a variety of ways – even indirectly through policy on resources used like water for irrigation.

 

Countries With The Most Cultivated Land, Arable Land And Permanent Crops

Wikipedia.org via CIA World Factbook has a table that shows the countries with the most cultivated land, arable land, and permanent crop land, in km squared land area.

The top 5 countries in each category are:

– Total cultivated land

In order from 1 to 5 – India, United States, Russia, China, Brazil

 

– Arable land

In order from 1 to 5 – India, United States, Russia, China, Brazil

 

– Permanent crops

In order from 1 to 5 – Indonesia, China, India, Nigeria, Brazil

 

See the full table in the wikipedia.org resource for how all countries rank in each category.

 

Factors That Can Impact If There’s Enough Farmable Land Left For The Future

A few factors might include but aren’t limited to:

– Population growth, and what the agricultural needs and wants of that population are (in terms of food products, and other products)

– How we use the agricultural land currently being farmed, and the impact of future farming practices/methods and technology on food production (such as on yields, productivity, and so on)

– How much agricultural land is in a degraded state, and how quickly land and topsoil are degrading or eroding (or, will degrade and erode into the future)

– How much unused farmable land can be utilized in the future (which depends on many factors)

– Society side factors such as government policies and regulations, and so on

 

How Much Unused Farmable Land Is Left To Expand Upon?

How Much Agricultural Land We Use Currently

[Working from a baseline, according to ourworldindata.org, 51 million km squared area of habitable land used as agricultural land in the world]

Sciencing.com also indicates that close to the 50 million km squared area of land amount is used as agricultural land worldwide.

 

How Much Farmable Land Might Be Left

Estimates put the remaining farmable land left at about 27 million square kilometers, and for crop production specifically, there might be 2.7 billion ha with crop production potential left.

 

Current estimates put the remaining amount of farmable land (as of 2017) at about 27 million square kilometers (10.5 million square miles), most of which is concentrated in Africa and Central and South America (sciencing.com)

 

At present some 11 percent (1.5 billion ha) of the globe’s land surface (13.4 billion ha) is used in crop production (arable land and land under permanent crops).

This area represents slightly over a third (36 percent) of the land estimated to be to some degree suitable for crop production.

The fact that there remain some 2.7 billion ha with crop production potential suggests that there is still scope for further expansion of agricultural land.

– fao.org

 

Possibility There Is No Suitable Farmable Land Left

Some sources indicate no suitable land is left to farm in the world because of constraint factors like poor soil and land conditions, poor climate and environmental conditions, a lack of infrastructure or finances in the area, or other practical factors.

At the very least, if this land could be farmed, it might be high risk, not be profitable, or present some type of other major practical challenge.

 

However, [there’s suggestions that there is] no more, or very little, land to bring under cultivation. 

… much of the land also suffers from constraints such as ecological fragility, low fertility, toxicity, high incidence of disease or lack of infrastructure.

These reduce its productivity, require high input use and management skills to permit its sustainable use, or require prohibitively high investments to be made accessible or disease-free. 

– fao.org

[Read more on these numbers and this information about agricultural land and potential expansion in the future in the FAO resource in the resources list] 

 

Further expansion of agriculture is a poor solution to meeting future needs because we’re using nearly all of the land that’s suitable for agriculture already (environmentreports.com)

 

The rest [of the land on Earth] is either is either unsuitable for cultivation because of soil, climate topography, or urban development, or it’s forest land [and this means we don’t have anymore land to expand farming onto] (sciencealert.com)

 

How Much Of The World’s Arable Land Is In A Degraded State, & How Much Topsoil Is Left?

Cropland Degradation

Some estimations say roughly 30% to a third of the world’s cropland is in a degraded state, and/or has had to be abandoned in the last 40 years due to a lack of productivity.

 

Agricultural Topsoil Left

Additionally, agricultural topsoil is being lost over time, and some countries may only have about 60 years left of harvests in their remaining topsoil

 

The bbc.com resource listed outlines some further causes of topsoil erosion and land degradation in the US, especially on cropland, and in specific States like Iowa.

In Iowa for example, the resource outlines tilling over the years, along with disturbance from farm vehicles, as the two reasons that have allowed water and wind to erode Iowa’s topsoil.

They also outline quantities of potentially degraded land and soil. 

 

Is There Enough Agricultural Land Left For The Future?

There might be accurate to say there’s no definitive or clear way to answer this question.

When talking solely about having agricultural land for food production (other resources that we produce from agriculture include materials like cotton fibre, oil, fuels, and so on – none of which we’ve considered here), something that should be considered is that we are already producing enough food, as of 2019, to feed 10 billion people worldwide – even though we have over 7 billion people living on earth.

So total food production might not be an right now – distribution to the people who need the food might be the real issue.

In addition to that, we can do theoretical maths on how much land we will need in the future.

It’s going to come down in simple terms to how many people we have on Earth, how much land we have available, and how much land we need to feed one person:

 

– Number Of People

Estimated to be somewhere between 9 to 13 billion at peak population between the years 2050 and 2100

 

– Amount Of Land

Right now we are using roughly 17.6 million square kilometers (6.8 million square miles) to grow crops, with between 32 and 36 million square kilometers (12 and 14 million square miles) used to raise livestock

All up, it might be about 50 million square kilometers total agricultural land (according to an ourworldindata.org estimate)

 

– How Much Land We Need Per Person To Grow Food For Them

Estimates of between 1 acre to 3.25 acres per person, with current agricultural systems and based on the standard Western or American Average Diet (farmlandlp.com, and plantricianproject.org).

This depends on the diet we eat and how much meat and dairy we eat.

 

So, in the future we could need anywhere between 13 billion to over 39 billion acres, if the whole world ate a Western diet high in animal based products and high in calories. 

This amount of acres would be less on a more land efficient food diet.

Right now, if we convert square kilometres to acres, we are using 12,355.3 (twelve thousand, three hundred and fifty five) million square acres of agricultural land. This number would have to be converted to billions of acres.

This is of course only a very rough estimate, and a theoretical calculation.

 

Consider this from globalagriculture.org:

With increasing population growth, the amount of arable land available for each person is continually dropping.

Currently, each human being has only 2000m² at his or her disposal; in 1961, that figure was 4000m².

The amount of arable land available per person will decrease to 1500m² by 2050.

 

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960 … due to growing populations and soil degradation (scientificamerican.com)

 

Factors That May Impact Agricultural Land Use Efficiency & Agricultural Production In The Future

Factors that might impact efficiency of agricultural land use, and general agricultural land use in the future might include but aren’t limited to:

– Population size, and the wants and needs of that population

– Levels of land and topsoil degradation

– The average food diet type that a population eats i.e. how land efficient it is.

Plant based foods might be more efficient that animal product based diets.

Also, consider how growing animal feed, biofuels, and other agricultural products that require additional stages of energy conversion, instead of direct energy conversion, might be far less land efficient

– The types of agricultural methods and practices used

– Whether developing or new technology impacts capacity for, and ability in the food production space (both agricultural technology like GMO crops, and general food production technology like lab grown meat and news ways to farm fish and marine species)

– Overall yields and productivity per square area of land, as well as how many calories, proteins and other nutrients can be produced per square area of land.

Developed countries may be more maxxed out in terms of yields and productivity from land, but, developing and less industrialized regions may be able to take advantage of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, modern farming machinery, and other commercial/industrial scale farming methods to scale food production

– The level of food waste and loss (which might decrease initial farm level land use requirements)

– How effectively distribution of food, and food production systems can be improved

– How a changing climate may impact agricultural production

 

… the calories that are lost by feeding cereals to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could theoretically feed an extra 3.5 billion people (globalagriculture.org)

 

North America, South America and Oceania could spare significant amounts of land if they moved to the less meat-intensive (and consequently, grain-intensive) diet in the USDA guidelines

In contrast, Africa, the European Union, and Asia would require a significant expansion of agricultural lands to support a USDA guideline diet

… if the whole world attempted to adhere to the USDA dietary guidelines, we’d be short about 1 gigahectare of farmland – about the size of Canada – under current agricultural practices

– sciencealert.com

 

… in developing countries, 80% of the necessary increases in food production keep pace with population growth are projected to come from increases in yields and the number of times per year crops can be grown on the same land. Only 20% of new food production is expected to come from expansion of farming land (who.int)

 

Other Notes On Agricultural Land For The Future

Overall, we probably need to start taking a much more detailed approach to agriculture in terms of what we are using land for, the resources we are putting into it, what we are getting back out of it, and the overall short and long term impact that process is having.

But, we also need to consider the health and nutrition aspect of food production – the amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats and minerals we are getting from the foods we produce.

The impact of changing weather patterns on agriculture, the amount of water agriculture uses via irrigation, and the GHG emissions from agriculture are all important to track, along with food waste and food loss inefficiencies at the production through to consumer levels.

There’s many ways we can improve the agriculture and food system to have better and more efficient use of land, but these other factors need to be considered in that approach and strategy.

 

Sources

1. https://ourworldindata.org/agricultural-land-by-global-diets ( by Hannah Ritchie)

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-much-land-is-there-on-earth-what-is-it-used-for/

3. http://www.fao.org/3/y4252e/y4252e06.htm

4. https://sciencing.com/much-earths-land-farmable-16685.html

5. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.AGRI.ZS

6. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ag.lnd.arbl.zs?view=chart

7. https://sos.noaa.gov/datasets/cropland-and-pastureland-comparison/

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arable_land

9. https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat-and-animal-feed.html

10. http://www.environmentreports.com/enough-food-for-the-future/

11. https://inhabitat.com/is-there-enough-water-and-land-on-earth-to-meet-global-food-demands/?variation=c

12. https://www.sciencealert.com/not-enough-land-earth-support-diet-usda-recommends-guidelines-environment-ecosystem-health

13. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200781 

14. http://www.farmlandlp.com/2012/01/one-acre-feeds-a-person/ 

15. https://plantricianproject.org/footnotes 

16. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/ 

17. https://www.fewresources.org/soil-science-and-society-were-running-out-of-dirt.html

18. https://www.economist.com/feast-and-famine/2013/12/31/meat-and-greens

19. http://www.earthsave.org/environment.htm

20. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/is-the-livestock-industry-destroying-the-planet-11308007/

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_use_statistics_by_country

22. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_use

23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_land

24. https://www.wri.org/blog/2016/04/sustainable-diets-what-you-need-know-12-charts

25. https://www.vox.com/2014/8/21/6053187/cropland-map-food-fuel-animal-feed

26. https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/global_warming/Solutions-for-Deforestation-Free-Meat.pdf

27. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/pesticide-residues-in-food

28. https://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/follow-the-food/why-soil-is-disappearing-from-farms/

29. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/techniques/environmental-factors-affecting-plant-growth 

30. https://garden.lovetoknow.com/garden-basics/plant-growth-factors 

31. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/barley/factors-affecting-grain-crop-field-establishment

32. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/barley/factors-affecting-grain-crop-field-establishment

33. https://www.s-cool.co.uk/a-level/geography/agriculture/revise-it/factors-that-affect-the-distribution-of-agriculture

34. https://revisionworld.com/gcse-revision/geography/agriculture/factors-affecting-farming

35. https://www.cropsreview.com/climatic-factors.html

36. https://www.cropsreview.com/abiotic-factors.html

37. https://www.cropsreview.com/biotic-factors.html

38. https://www.s-cool.co.uk/gcse/biology/environment/revise-it/abiotic-and-biotic-factors

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