Grain harvest sets record, but supplies still tight.

AuthorHalweil, Brian

After several years of decline, the world's grain output reached a record 2.316 billion tons in 2007, a 4-percent increase over the previous year. Yields rose 95 million tons in response to near-perfect weather in major growing areas and an estimated 5-percent jump in world fertilizer use. However, commodity analysts estimate that high demand will consume all of the increase and prevent replenishment of cereal stocks, now at their lowest level in 30 years. On average, humans get about 48 percent of their calories from grains, a share that has declined just slightly, from 50 percent, over the last four decades. Grains, especially corn and soybeans, are also the primary feedstock for industrial livestock production.

China, India, and the United States currently account for 46 percent of global grain production; Europe, including the former Soviet states, grows another 21 percent. The global grain harvest has nearly tripled since 1961, while world population has doubled. As a result, the amount of grain produced per person grew from 285 kilograms in 1961 to a peak of 376 kilograms in 1986. In recent decades, annual per capita production globally has hovered around 350 kilograms, but it varies dramatically by region, standing at roughly 1,230 kilograms per year in the United States (most of it fed to livestock), 325 kilograms in China, and 90 kilograms in Zimbabwe. People consume 48 percent of the world's grain directly, while 35 percent becomes livestock feed. A growing share (17 percent) is used to make ethanol and other fuels.


In 2007, nearly all of the increase in the total grain harvest was accounted for by a 200-million-ton jump in the global production of coarse grains, which include corn, barley, sorghum, and other grains fed mainly to animals. At 784 million tons, the record harvest of corn was buoyed by its growing use in biofuels production, which prompted farmers in...

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