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USGS finds more dirt for growing crops

Until we defrost Greenland this could be all we’ve got

Much like the excitement I feel when I find a missing sock behind the clothes dryer, I am sure that is what the US Geological Survey (USGS) experienced when it recently discovered more cropland in the world. And they didn’t just find one sock, it was a whole outfit.

The USGS recently reported that further review of new satellite imagery has revealed another 250 to 350 million hectares of cropland — that’s a 15 to 20 per cent increase over the previously held estimates. They now figure there is about 1.87 billion hectares of cropland in the world.

For several years farmers have heard the often-repeated message to improve crop production efficiency in order to feed a world with a projected 9.7 to 10 billion person population by 2050 — be more efficient. “They aren’t making anymore dirt.” Well here we go. They found 20 per cent more dirt.

The green area of the accompanying world map shows the identified cropland in each country. The black areas are not cropland. I’m guessing most of it is tree-covered or mountainous. And that big white area near the top centre is Greenland and obviously not much happens there other than skiing.

The are several pockets (sometimes large pockets) of tan- or beige-coloured landscape, which again I assume are primarily dry or dessert regions.

Back to the green… I found it interesting just how little green there is in Canada. During travels on any summer day it feels like the country is wall-to-wall grain and canola, but in reality less than five per cent of the country is cropland, and Canada has at most 0.25 per cent of the total world cropland. This imagery is good. It even managed to capture Eric Peters’ wheat and canola fields near La Crete in the northern Peace River region. His weed control looks pretty good.

Some other interesting facts from the updated USGS — what country has the most cropland? Earlier studies showed China or the U.S. as having the highest net cropland, but not so. India ranks first with 179 million hectares, which is nearly 10 per cent of the global net cropland area. No wonder they don’t want our peas.

While the USGS identifies the cropland, it also points out that water will be the ongoing challenge to achieve production from this cropland. Their study estimates that 80 per cent of all human water use across the world goes toward producing food. So managing and growing crops with improved water use efficiency will be critical.

The USGS says further analysis of the imagery and data will provide more details on identifying what crops are present, when they grow, their productivity, any areas of fallow land, and it also should be able to identify who left the gate open the day the cows got out.

The other reassuring message I got from this map is confirmation of my long-held belief that the world is indeed flat. I don’t see any rounded corners. If you are paddling your canoe west of Alaska be prepared for a sharp drop off — there’s no coming back.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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