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Exploring crop data in FAOSTAT

Dr Dan Bebber presents a narrated video in which he demonstrates how to access the FAOSTAT database.
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This is the FAOSTAT home page. It has lots of options. But let’s start by looking at rankings further down the page. Click on the blue circle to continue. The rankings page let us look at production imports and exports by commodity, meaning the agricultural product, or by country. We’re on commodities by country, so let’s look at my country, the UK. We’ll select United Kingdom in this drop down menu. The most recent year of data is 2017. We can see that the biggest commodity by weight is milk followed closely by wheat at around 15 million tonnes of production. So the most important crop produced by the UK is wheat. Let’s click on countries by commodity.
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If wheat isn’t shown in the box, select it from the menu. This graph shows us the top 10 wheat producing countries. Not surprisingly, the large nations of China, India, Russian Federation, and USA come first. If we scroll down, we see in the table that the UK is quite far down the list. Let’s delve deeper into UK wheat production. Click on Compare Data in the menu bar. The first thing we see is a timeline from 1961 to 2017. We’ll leave that as it is. In the group’s box, select Production. In Domains, select Crops. In Country, select United Kingdom. In Element, select Production Quantity. And finally, in Item, select wheat. Now click the blue Compare Data button.
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This produces a graph of UK wheat production over time. We see the production increase massively from 2.5 million tonnes in 1961 to around 15 million tonnes in the 1990s to the present. Most of the increase happened in the 1970s and 1980s. What factors led to this growth in wheat production? Did the UK plant more wheat? We can check this by removing production quantity from the element box and adding area harvested instead. Click the compare data button again. Yes, the area harvested follows the pattern closely. The UK has more than doubled the area under wheat since the 1960s. But the total produced increased around six-fold. So what else happened?
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We can check the yield, meaning the amount of wheat produced per unit area of land by replacing area harvested with yield in the element box. Again, click the compare data button to see the graph. The pattern is similar. The amount of wheat that UK farmers produced per unit land area has roughly doubled since the 1960s. But there hasn’t been much of an increase since the 1990s. What do you think? What factors might have caused this increase in production efficiency? Is production efficiency always a good thing? What might the knock-on effect be of producing more crops from the same piece of land. Notice the increase isn’t smooth. Some years seem to have higher productivity than the average, like 1984.
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While some years have lower productivity like 1976 and 2012. What might cause those spikes and troughs? What will the knock-on effect be for example, on food prices? To give you a clue, the UK suffered a devastating heatwave in 1976. And the wettest year on record was 2012. Finally, let’s add the world’s biggest producer, China, to the yield graph. Go to the country region box, select China, and click Compare Data. The overall trend is similar. But China’s yields are about half those of the UK. What factors could cause this difference? What would be the consequences of food security, environmental sustainability, and economics, if Chinese farmers achieve yields as high as those in the UK. Now it’s over to you.
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Explore the data for a country and crop of your choice. Think about the factors that have caused trends and variations in production. What might happen in coming years and what this might mean for future food systems?

Dr Dan Bebber demonstrates how to access statistical data, on crop production, using the UN FAOSTAT database. As we mentioned before, it might be useful to open the FAOSTAT page in a different window, so that you can follow along with Dan.

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