The world's agricultural systems face the challenge of meeting the rising demands from population growth, changing dietary preferences, and expanding biofuel use. Previous studies have put forward strategies for meeting this growing demand by increasing global crop production, either expanding the area under cultivation or intensifying the crop yields of our existing agricultural lands. However, another possible means for increasing global crop production has received less attention: increasing the frequency of global cropland harvested each year. Historically, many of the world's croplands were left fallow, or had failed harvests, each year, foregoing opportunities for delivering crop production. Furthermore, many regions, particularly in the tropics, may be capable of multiple harvests per year, often more than are harvested today. Here we analyze a global compilation of agricultural statistics to show how the world's harvested cropland has changed. Between 2000 and 2011, harvested land area grew roughly 4 times faster than total standing cropland area. Using a metric of cropland harvest frequency (CHF) - the ratio of land harvested each year to the total standing cropland - and its recent trends, we identify countries that harvest their croplands more frequently, and those that have the potential to increase their cropland harvest frequency. We suggest that a possible 'harvest gap' may exist in many countries that represents an opportunity to increase crop production on existing agricultural lands. However, increasing the harvest frequency of existing croplands could have significant environmental and social impacts, which need careful evaluation.
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- cropland harvest frequency
- harvest gap
- land use