27 September 2009 - An answer to an often-asked question

It's a question I've heard many times over the years; I'm hearing it more often these days because of the financial challenges faced by farmers and ranchers, and it's a question most often asked by younger people. The question...Is there a future in agriculture? My answer today is the same as it was 5 decades ago.

Yes, of course, people must eat and we keep adding more people to the planet everyday, so indeed, there is a future in agriculture. Add to that the fact that today, farmers do more than feed us...they put clothes on our back, a roof over our head and energy in our fuel tank. Because of our expansion beyond food, new jobs have been created in the field of agriculture, some 300 career opportunities for young people today. That's why I tell young people interested in an agricultural career today..."You can't dream big enough!"

My answer gained strong support a few days ago when the FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization, of the United Nations issued a report that stated world food output must increase by 70% by 2050 if we are to feed the projected extra 2.3-billion people that will arrive on the planet in the next four decades. That means we must increase cereal and grain production by 1-billion tons to 2.1-billion tons annually and meat production from 200-million tons to 470-million tons each year.

The FAO said 90% of the crop increase will come from higher yields created by technology, but we will need to add at least 250-million acres of arable land mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America where it will be expensive to convert land into farming and ranching.

There is a message in this FAO report that I hope will not be missed or ignored by the likes of the European Union, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. We cannot increase food production 70% in four decades without using existing technology and actively pursuing new technology to make our soil more productive.

That means adding more nutrients to the soil, developing new genetics to increase crop production, making better use of our water resources and encouraging bright young people to pursue careers in these areas. It won't be easy and it will mean dramatic change for many people. As one farmer friend told me this summer..."what worked for us in farming yesterday probably won't work tomorrow so we had better find new and different and better ways." To me that is the challenge that says there is a future in agriculture. As I tell my city radio audience everyday..."If you eat, you are involved in agriculture!"

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