Farmers worldwide are getting better at raising food, but the world’s food needs are growing even faster than the increase in agricultural productivity, a new study finds.

The 0.1% gap — world ag productivity is growing 1.63% annually, with an annual increase of 1.73% needed to sustainably produce food, feed, fiber and energy in the future — threatens global ability to provide ag products for 10 billion people in 2050, the study says.

The world now has about 7.7 billion people.

Improvement is particularly needed in low-income countries, where annual ag productivity growth averages just 1%. And while productivity growth is strong in China and South Asia, it’s slowing in North America, Europe, and Latin America, the report said.

The 2019 Global Agricultural Productivity Report, “Productivity Growth for Sustainable Diets,” released by Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, identified six areas for further ag productivity growth:

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  • Investing in public agricultural research and development and ag extension services

  • Embracing science- and information-based technologies

  • Improving infrastructure and market access

  • Cultivating partnerships for sustainable agriculture and nutrition

  • Expanding regional and global trade

  • Reducing post-harvest loss and food waste

Those factors have been most common in high-income countries, fostering both ag productivity and environmental benefits. Between 1980 and 2015, productivity gains led to a 41% decrease in the amount of land used in U.S. corn production, with irrigation water use dropping 46%, greenhouse gas emissions declining 31%, and soil erosion (tons of soil loss per acre) falling 58%, the report noted.

The report is available at