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New map shows 4.62 billion acres of cropland globally

Surprise! The U.S. Geological Survey has found that there’s a lot more cropland in the world than previously thought — about 15–20% more, in fact.

The agency has released a new, high-resolution global map that shows information about worldwide cropland and agricultural water use. The map is more accurate than any previous report, showing a total of 4.62 billion acres of cropland on planet Earth. Previous estimates placed the number around 700 to 900 million acres fewer.

“The map clearly shows individual farm fields, big or small, at any location in the world,” said Prasad Thenkabail, head researcher on the agency’s map project. “Given the high resolution of 30 meters and 0.09 hectares per pixel, a big advantage is the ability to see croplands in any country and sub-national regions, including states, provinces, districts, counties and villages.”

Naturally, some of the highest-population countries have the largest amounts of cropland. India has the most cropland in the world at 9.6%, AgWeb reports. The U.S. follows at 8.9%, then China at 8.8%, and Russia at 8.3%. This amounts to 35.6% of the world’s cropland.

Being able to see the big picture of agriculture around the world will help experts make informed decisions that could impact food security. By 2050, the global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion, so understanding all the factors that keep the world fed is of utmost importance. This information could help farmers, scientists, national security officials and international development organizations, among others.

“This map is the baseline for higher level assessments, such as identifying which crops are present and where, when they grow, their productivity, if lands are left fallow and whether the water source is irrigated or rain-fed,” said Thenkabail. “Comparisons can be made between the present and past, as well as one farm to another.”

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