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Research Article

Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios

Authors:

Christian J. Peters ,

Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States, US
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Jamie Picardy,

Geography and Regional Planning, Mount Ida College, Newton, Massachusetts, United States, US
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Amelia F. Darrouzet-Nardi,

Global Health Studies Program, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, United States, US
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Jennifer L. Wilkins,

Department of Public Health, Food Studies and Nutrition, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, United States, US
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Timothy S. Griffin,

Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States, US
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Gary W. Fick

Section of Soil and Crop Sciences (Emeritus), Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, United States, US
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Abstract

Strategies for environmental sustainability and global food security must account for dietary change. Using a biophysical simulation model we calculated human carrying capacity under ten diet scenarios. The scenarios included two reference diets based on actual consumption and eight “Healthy Diet” scenarios that complied with nutritional recommendations but varied in the level of meat content. We considered the U.S. agricultural land base and accounted for losses, processing conversions, livestock feed needs, suitability of land for crops or grazing, and land productivity. Annual per capita land requirements ranged from 0.13 to 1.08 ha person-1 year-1 across the ten diet scenarios. Carrying capacity varied from 402 to 807 million persons; 1.3 to 2.6 times the 2010 U.S. population. Carrying capacity was generally higher for scenarios with less meat and highest for the lacto-vegetarian diet. However, the carrying capacity of the vegan diet was lower than two of the healthy omnivore diet scenarios. Sensitivity analysis showed that carrying capacity estimates were highly influenced by starting assumptions about the proportion of cropland available for cultivated cropping. Population level dietary change can contribute substantially to meeting future food needs, though ongoing agricultural research and sustainable management practices are still needed to assure sufficient production levels.
Knowledge Domain: Sustainability Transitions
How to Cite: Peters, C.J., Picardy, J., Darrouzet-Nardi, A.F., Wilkins, J.L., Griffin, T.S. and Fick, G.W., 2016. Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios. Elem Sci Anth, 4, p.000116. DOI: http://doi.org/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116
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 Published on 22 Jul 2016

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