A new study indicates even if there were adequate acres for planting and sufficient water to grow additional high production crops, the outlook for sufficient food, fuel and fiber over the next 40 years is dismal unless plant nutrient use is better managed.

“The removal of the three primary plant nutrients -- nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium -- has been increasing, and there is a need for increased fertilizer use and more recovery and recycling from farm and nonfarm systems. Continued advances in nutrient use efficiency will moderate increased nutrient demand,” said Dr. David Zilberman, head of a task force charged with preparing a paper on Food, Fuel and Plant Nutrient Use in the Future for the Council on Agriculture Science and Technology (CAST) in Ames, Iowa.

Zilberman is a professor at the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley.

He says how well we research, plan, and implement the proper use of nutrients in the years ahead could shape how well we will eat in the near future. The paper looks at the processes shaping the current nutrient situation and the resulting requirements as world food production evolves over the next 40 years.

“Current conditions and future trends show that adequate food production will require increases in the use of fertilizer nutrients. With a growing population, dwindling arable land, and an increased demand for biofuels, the world cannot count on an expansion of harvested area to fill the demands. Scientists and food producers need to look at the way land is currently used to feed the world’s growing population and look into the best practices for how to move forward.”

The study indicates to meet global food demand, the use of genetics to improve crop productivity, promote soil conservation and management, and use nutrients efficiently is necessary.

Because of various circumstances, grain production will need to increase by approximately 50 percent over the next four decades according to the study.

“In the United States the removal nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium has been increasing and there is a need for increased fertilizer use and more recovery and recycling from farm and nonfarm systems. Continued advances in nutrient use efficiency will moderate increased nutrient demand.”

The study projects that future food, fiber, and fuel demands will not be met by expanding cropland area. The authors use data to analyze factors influencing crop production now and indications of what is to come. With a growing population and increased demand for food and fuel, research regarding nutrient use, recovery, and recycling is crucial.