In an era when the media spends a lot of time championing small, family-owned farms, “big farming” has become something of a bad word. But the truth is that industrial farming is necessary to feed and fuel the dramatically expanding world population.
By some estimates, agriculture uses 60 percent of the Earth’s arable land. To feed a growing world population that is expected to increase by a third by 2050, it’s vital that we learn to become more efficient — and communicate this commitment to sustainability to the public. Following are four steps the farming community can take to lay the groundwork for a future approach to farming that benefits farmers, consumers, and the environment alike.
1. Understand the Consumer
Industrial farmers have to understand — and empathize with — their confused customer base. For instance, plants and animals have modified the way they cope with the climate to survive since the beginning of time. This is a natural occurrence. If we have the scientific ability, literacy, and innovation to help it along, that doesn’t make it wrong.
The problem is that people don’t always know what that means. And, per human nature, when people are confused, they become anxious. This leads to being scared and then angry. By committing to informing consumers, we can alleviate some of this tension from the start.
2. Improve Education
Most people don’t know that farmers have to pump certain chemicals into the soil so it’s ready to receive seed. They hear the words “nitrogen” or “ammonia” associated with food and balk.
To address this education gap in consumer understanding of the industry, the farming community has to understand that most people don’t know or comprehend these practices. In fact, 97 percent of American consumers have no involvement in the agriculture business or community, and consequently, they have no idea how food makes it from the dirt to the table.
On the other hand, consumers need to be open to hearing the truth about what it really takes to grow food in this country — because it’s not easy. We need to increase the scientific literacy of the general population so they can understand what certain chemicals do and make informed decisions about what they consume.
3. Leverage Our Size
In large part, this responsibility to educate falls on the shoulders of big farming, whose larger scales and higher profit margins oftentimes allow for an easier allocation of funds to this calling. In addition, it’s important that we continue to research and innovate new ways to leverage technology to allow crops to reach their full potential. Rethinking the farmer’s approach to plowing a field to planting depth to population yield will help our industry show how it’s moving forward and making advances in the way we produce food for the world.
4. Change Our Point of View
As we look toward the future, we also need to consider the ways we might change our point of view on how we farm. In particular, it’s important that we collectively look forward, rather than backward. The organic-versus-industrial farming issue should be more about the choices a consumer makes, rather than one being deemed better or worse. Our goal should be to approach farming in a way that increases productivity while fostering sustainability, reducing hunger, and boosting nutrition for the world’s population.
Farming is an industry — and just like most industries, it works better on a mass scale. But it can still be managed sustainably. By continuing to innovate farming methods while also focusing on transparent education, we can collectively cultivate the concept of “good farming.”
For nearly 30 years, Doug Austin has been studying the “art of observation” and filtering out the human truths. Whether digging for key customer/consumer insights or preparing the next national retail promotion, it’s all about the ability to “hear and see” what others may not and asking the hard questions that get us to the possibilities. Austin is the SVP of Growth & Innovation and leads product and brand innovation sessions for Marlin Network.