With the beginning of a new year, we are looking to the future, but I’m tired of everyone in the agricultural industry suggesting we look 40 years to the future.
It seems that every meeting I attended in 2011 had more than one presenter talking about needing to feed 9 billion people who will populate the earth in 2050.
The numbers were originally included in educational presentations early in the year quoting the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the National Academy of Science and other such organizations, but by the end of the year, marketers were using the numbers to promote their various products.
Marketers are getting carried away with using the claim that farmers should invest in specific products to increase yield per acre because more yield per acre today means more grain to feed the world.
As grain prices are showing a trend to be lower in 2012 than 2011, it might turn more than a few farmers off about how they need to invest in products that have a marginal return on investment when grain prices are less than 2011 highs.
Feeding the world has now also been co-mingled by marketers with achieving sustainability. Growing all the food needed to feed the world’s population must be done sustainably, although the definition of sustainable is somewhat different per company, government agency, ag association or public activist organization.
Sustainability as it pertains to ag retailers was the theme for the Agricultural Retailers Association annual meeting—“Growing a Sustainable Business”—that is reported about extensively in this issue.
Sustainability does not prevent the use of technology but actually should encourage its adoption, and new technology is needed to advance per acre production drastically during the next 40 years.
It seems some company marketing messages seem to hang a guilt trip on farmers who don’t use a product that could increase yield and elevate sustainability in production.
It has been explained that doubling average yield of grain grown worldwide is needed to meet the food needs of 9 billion people. In actuality, it could be easier to triple the average yield in developing countries than doubling the yield in the U.S. to meet the overall world food/grain goal. And because sustainability is a focus, this tripling of yield could be done without harming, and actually improving, farming in developing countries.
As an example, it is not impossible that African, South American and Eastern European countries could more than sustainably triple corn yield in 40 years because they have such low starting points in current yields.
We can look 40 years in the past when the trend line average yield was about 90 bushels per acre in the U.S. Today, the trend line average yield is about 160 bushels per acre. We all know past production practices were drastically different and not as sustainable, and we also know that computerized research is advancing technology 10 times faster than just a decade ago.
None of us can imagine the technology that will have been developed and adopted, not just in the U.S., but around the world in the next 40 years.
Biotechnology is a sustainable practice for farming, no matter how opponents might claim otherwise. Biotechnology, in my way of thinking, will be the key to everything. Eliminating the use of pesticides and making crops more efficient in growing with less water and less fertilizer is just the tip of the iceberg.