World Grain Production Down, But Recovering

Despite record rice and maize yields around the world in 2010, global wheat production dropped substantially enough to bring total grain output to just below 2008 levels.

| December 7, 2011

field wheat

Global wheat production fell during 2011, bringing down worldwide grain production totals.


World grain production fell, exacerbating a global food situation already plagued by rising prices, according to new research published by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Onlinepublication. Despite record rice and maize yields around the world, global wheat production dropped substantially enough to bring total grain output to just below 2008 levels.

Maize, wheat, and rice provide nearly two-thirds of the global human diet and serve as critical inputs for both animal feed and industrial products. The significance of these crops guarantees that a decline in production will produce ripple effects throughout the global economy, particularly as increased food prices continue to take a toll on the world's neediest populations. Overall, rice and wheat production have tripled since the 1960s, and maize production has quadrupled, despite global acreage of these crops increasing by only 35 percent.

"Production increased worldwide, but there was greater reliance on irrigation, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides----all of which take resources, can be costly, and may cause substantial environmental degradation," said contributing researcher Richard Weil.

Nevertheless, preliminary data for 2011 indicate that grain production is recovering from the 2010 slump. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently forecast that cereal output in 2011-12 will be 3 percent higher than in 2010-11.

"Grain remains the foundation of the world's diet, and the failure of harvests in recent years to keep pace with growth in meat consumption and population is worrisome," said Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. "It's important that we identify and implement more inventive and sustainable strategies in grain production. Reducing the proportion of grain harvests lost to weather disasters and waste or diverted for corn ethanol production and animal feed is among such strategies. It's also important that we prioritize grain availability for those who need it most."

Recent growth in agricultural production has been uneven. In many regions, climate change has brought irregular weather patterns such as rising temperatures, violent storms, and flash flooding. In Russia, where severe drought has plagued large farming regions, overall wheat yields plunged 40 percent in 2010, compared to a decline of only 5 percent worldwide. Subsequently, Russia----the fourth largest wheat exporter in 2009----banned all wheat exports, severely disrupting world grain markets. Poor weather took its toll elsewhere as well: El Niño in the west Pacific, for example, brought rice production down significantly in the Philippines, already the world's largest food importer.

roberta stewardson
2/14/2012 3:40:58 PM

Remember the human population is expanding. This is the main driver for rising prices. We need to stabilize our populations NOW. We won't be able to feed all the people in years to come. More suffering and starvation will occur if we don't do something soon.

darnell ashurst-thomas
12/16/2011 4:59:23 PM

Nice article on grain production!

t brandt
12/10/2011 12:34:05 AM

Food prices are up over the last few yrs mainly due to US monetary policy: we've printed trillions of dollars worth of money we don;t have, ie- each dollar is now worth less. Ethanol for fuel,(generally a very inefficient policy, both in terms of stupid use of food and production of a meaningless amount of fuel) has added only about 40 cents to the price of a bushel of corn (was up to over $7/bu from ~$4/bu). All food energy comes from the Sun, trapped by green plants. We can eat the plants and get low levels of protein in a meal, or we can let grazers eat the plants, concentrate the protein and give us high quality protein in each meal when we eat the meat. One would have to eat ~5000 cal/d to get only 60g protein from a diet of rice, beans & corn. That's enough to make even Barney Fife very, very fat. The same 60 g can be obtained from ~500cal worth of beef. Your mother was right: eat a well balanced diet. When you grow a crop and carry away the produce, you carry away the nutrients it picked up from the soil. You gotta replace those nutrients if you want to keep on growing crops. How you replace them doesn't make a heck of a lot of difference to the environment (you've already hurt it by destroying natural habitat ot farm). If you want high quality yield, you must use high quality fertilizers. You probably don't have enough manure to do that; you gotta use artificial fertilizers. And the climate isn't changing. Russia's harvest was due to drought, always a problem when LaNina causes a blocking high over Siberia. Texas had the same problem this past yr with a blocking high over Bermuda. Remember The Dust Bowl in the 30s? Same thing. It happens cyclically, naturally. False info & conclusions distracts from the real problems. Right now, total world food production is more than adequate to feed everybody. People starve from problems with our ability to distribute the food appropriately. Soon population will outstrip food production. Then competiton for food will change the world.

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