We have a grand challenge ahead in the next three decades. Our global population is projected to increase by 2 billion, yet we will not have an appreciable increase in agricultural land. Our challenge is to nourish a global population of increasing affluence without degrading the earth’s resources or compromising the success of future generations.
Key to this effort is doing more with less, or improving the productivity of agriculture. Over the past several decades, both plant and animal agriculture in the United States have made gains in improving outputs, such as beef production or corn yields, per animal and per acre. Many times, these improvements are beneficial to all or both commodities. For beef, improvements in the productivity of crops used as feeds for cattle, such as corn, have reduced the land requirements to produce beef.
For example, the acres of harvested corn grain required to produce grain-finished beef cattle has declined 46 percent over the past four decades due to improvements in corn yields per acre (Table 1). Additionally, we’re able to produce 9 percent more beef with 29 percent fewer cattle due to improvements in cattle genetics, cattle nutrition and health, and the use of technologies from herd management software to vaccines. Productivity improvements in plant and animal agriculture work synergistically to reduce input requirements for producing food. As a result, U.S. beef’s carbon footprint is 10 to 50 times lower than beef produced in other regions of the world. (…)
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