It's likely most farmers haven't trodden the streets of New York City very much. For good reason, what with its reputation as a seething, crowded mass of humanity.

However, according to Alex Avery, with the Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues, if you really want seething, crowded masses of humanity, visit Beijing, Bangalore or Calcutta. There, he says, you will get a glimpse of the world's future…and yours.

“Bottom line, world food demand 40 years from now will be at least twice as high as it is today, perhaps closer to triple,” he says. “That means that by the year 2050, humanity will have to produce twice as much food every year, year after year, than we currently produce.”

That's a problem and an opportunity, Avery says. “We don't have a lot of additional farmland we can bring into production to meet that challenge.” And the opportunity? If allowed to use the production technology available to us, we don't have to.

THE WORLD POPULATION of 6.5 billion people is projected to grow to 8.5-9 billion by 2050, says Avery. That's a lot more mouths to feed in a relatively short period of time. However, more and more of those new and hungry mouths will come into the world in much more affluent surroundings than did their parents. And it's that growing affluence of major populations that will escalate demand for food.

Avery points to China, which has 21% of the world's population. Over the last 12-14 years, Chinese meat consumption has more than doubled. “Per-capita, they still eat less than half the animal protein we eat in North America. The projections are, in 2045 or 2050, the Chinese will eat twice as much meat as they do today,” he says.

That's because as populations grow more affluent, their diet changes from primarily plant-based to meat-based.

THE POTENTIAL OF increased demand for animal proteins will benefit U.S. corn and soybean producers, says Jerry Norton, grains analyst at USDA's World Agricultural Outlook Board. Economic growth will fuel an increased demand for animal proteins, which in turn will fuel increased demand for feed, he says.

“The long-term outlook for feed grains and soybean proteins looks positive,” he says. “We have seen significant economic growth in countries like China and India, where incomes have grown to where these populations can now afford more animal proteins.”

Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues, says U.S. producers are in a position to take advantage of global grain needs. “U.S. producers are on the prime farmland in all the world,” he says. “And we have a well-developed infrastructure that allows us to move products efficiently to the world market.”

For other countries, political and economic turmoil may stifle their ability to keep up with the world demand, which Avery predicted more than a decade ago: World demand for food and feed grains will double in the next 30 years.

“Production in northern China is stretched, and demand for water will limit output. Ukraine is in the midst of political strife that will impact production, and Argentina continues to struggle with economic issues,” he says. “The U.S. producer is in good shape if we trust human nature: All humans have a deep-seated instinct to eat better.”

Bruce Babcock, director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University, says the worldwide economic recession will likely take a bite out of demand in the short term. “The current economic downturn will clearly knock down demand for animal protein. But if we do have an economic recovery, demand for animal proteins and corresponding demand for feed grains and oilseeds will be robust.”

And demand, Babcock says, will be met through better productivity and higher yields.

Even though the economic situation is not rosy this year, and there are some big uncertainties in all market segments, one would expect economic growth to increase. “There will still be a demand for animal proteins, and growth in income is directly tied to an increase in animal protein consumption,” Norton says. “That will increase the demand for feed.”

NOT JUST MEAT

But it's not just animal protein in the diet. “How many cotton outfits do you have in your closet?” Alex Avery asks. “We have a lot. And that takes acreage. Twenty or 30 years ago the average Chinese had two outfits. The average person in India had two or three outfits. Compare that with your own wardrobe and that's where they're going.”

There are only two ways to meet global food demand, Avery says. “We can take more land from nature or produce more per acre or per animal. No other human activity has greater impact on the environment than agriculture, and the more land-efficient we can make our agriculture, the more environmentally friendly it will be.”

Using 1960 productivity levels, “just to produce today's food supply, we'd need to plow down an additional 15-20 million square miles of wildlife habitat,” Avery says. “That's Canada, the U.S., half of Brazil and half of Western Europe. That's how much wildlife habitat has been saved by synthetic fertilizers, plant breeding, pesticides and cattle hormones.”

To read the entire Hudson Institute report, go to www.cgfi.org.