The world's population will cross the 7 billion mark this month and is projected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. So many more people, plus rising living standards, mean that global agriculture will have to double food production by mid-century.

Yet farming and ranching already exact a daunting toll on the environment: burn down rain forests to create more arable land, dump fertilizers onto fields that run off and choke life in rivers and oceans, emit volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, use up vast stores of freshwater for irrigation. How could we possibly produce 100 percent more food without wrecking the very land, water and air needed to grow that food?

An international team of researchers has devised a five-step plan that boldly claims to achieve both goals. The plan is explained by team leader Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota in the November 2011 issue of Scientific American, which will be available online on Tuesday, October 18 (a preview of the article is now live). Foley has also posted a series of six world maps that show how the plan could work. It includes some big gains in the U.S. heartland, not to mention South America, Europe, India, China and Africa.


Photo of wheat courtesy of USDA