Would There Be Surplus Grains for Biofuels? An Assessment of Agro-economic Factors and Biofuel Production Potential at the Global Level

We assessed agricultural land’s potential as to food supply and biofuel production. Agricultural land use has been steadily increasing worldwide as one means of feeding the burgeoning global population. If this same land, currently in agricultural production for food purposes, is diverted for biofuel production then it is most probably going to have an impact on global food supply. In this study, we first assessed the characteristics of land and where crops can be successfully grown based on the qualifications of weather, land intensification, land quality, and cropping patterns. Use of land in biofuel production, under current existing technologies, would need a significant expansion of agricultural land in both developed and developing countries from their current levels. We assessed the supply potential of the World Bank’s 25 classified regions for biofuel and also for meeting food production needs under the whole grain production, current per capita consumption, and optimal grain consumption based on vegetarian, normal and affluent diets under a variety of scenarios that encompass both increases in productivity and increases in pasture land conversion to grain crop cultivation. Results indicate that under the whole grain need criterion, the world will have a surplus balance of grains by 2050 (even if production is increased at only the 40% level). When requirements for a vegetarian diet are assumed, a productivity increase of 60% at current land levels would be required to meet global grain needs. When a moderate diet requirement assumption is made, expansion of crop production in existing pasture and meadow land would be necessary to meet food demand. An affluent diet requirement would require a fairly substantial increase in productivity and expansion of crop production to marginal land in order to meet world food demand by 2050. Plantings of switchgrass and Miscanthus on marginal lands can produce much more biofuel than needed but stress on land resources, water quality, water quantity, and the need for a huge amount of production inputs may create a hindrance for its implementation in the future. Additionally, it will require advances in cost effective technology that will then be capable of producing biofuel from lignocellulosic feedstocks. Minimally, to meet moderate diet requirements in 2050, there will be need to expand grain crops in 30% pasture land and to meet at least 10% average world biofuel mandated need additional 3.3% pasture land needs to be planted with lignocellulosic crops such as switchgrass.

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Working or Discussion Paper
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JEL Codes:
Q0; Q42; Q18
Paper removed for editing by author 10/19/11.
Series Statement:
Staff Paper

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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