World food production will need to double by the year 2050 in order to head off mass hunger, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

It will require education and technology, according to speakers at the BASF Agricultural Solutions Media Summit last week in Chicago.

At first glance, the prospect of doubling current food production may seem daunting. But, according to a video that BASF released on Wednesday, agricultural production has already shown tremendous progress during the past 60 years:

  • From 1950 to 2000, average corn yields grew from 39 bushels per acre to 153 bushels per acre.
  • From 1987 to 2007, farmers grew 40 percent more corn, 30 percent more soybeans and 19 percent more wheat — all on the same amount of land.
  • In 1940, one farmer produced enough food for 19 people. By 1970, it had risen to 73 people. And, today, one farmer produces enough food for 155 people.
  • As productivity has improved, so too have the techniques for preserving resources. For instance, farmers now grow 70 percent more corn from every pound of fertilizer than they did in 1970. And, they are doing a better job of conserving water and the soil.

The whole idea, several speakers noted, is to “grow more with less.” Rather than cutting down forests to create more cropland, the challenge is to get the most out of existing farmland and natural resources -- all the while trying to feed a hungry world.      

“I’m betting we will figure it out,” said Terry Uhling, senior vice president of The J.R. Simplot Company.  

When Mike Geske, grain farmer from Matthews, Mo., and board member of the National Corn Growers Association, graduated from college in 1972, it was around the time that biologist Paul Ehrlich came out with the book, “The Population Bomb,” and there was concern about starvation in the world. But, Geske added, technology has allowed farmers to grow more food on fewer acres with less fertilizer. “Technology has always allowed us to keep up,” he said.

And, the technology has also benefitted the natural environment, he added.