After millennia of agricultural expansion, the world has passed ‘peak farmland’
Global grazing has reached its peak. Global croplands have not.
This might come as a surprise as global meat consumption increases. How, then, did pasture for livestock reach its peak and is it now fall?
The world produces three times more meat than 50 years ago. But the way this meat is produced and the types of meat we eat have changed. First, we produce a lot of pork and chicken that is not pasture-fed.
Second, much of our beef production has shifted from open grazing to more intensive farming methods; it spared the earth. This presents a significant dilemma: grain-fed cattle are often more land efficient than pasture-fed cattle, so you need less land overall; but the biodiversity of pastures is often better than that of intensive croplands.
This means that more and more animals are being fed crops grown on cropland, rather than pasture. In fact, nearly half of the world’s cropland is used to produce animal feed. Unfortunately, this process of converting crops into meat is still inefficient, which means we need a lot of land to produce a small amount of food.
Biofuels have also put additional pressure on cropland, especially in countries like the United States and Brazil.