I am a beginning farmer located in Middle Tennessee. I have spent the last eight years actively involved in and studying agriculture, farming, and feeding the world. I am just now beginning the journey of starting my own farm, which I have spent the last several years preparing for. I understand my role in the food chain, and that role is to provide the food that helps feed the world. By 2050, the world’s population will have reached 9 billion people, and the job of providing food for all those people will fall squarely on the shoulders of us, the farmers. The question is, how will we do it? American agriculture is currently in turmoil. Farming is split into two groups, and they are going to have to unite and find a common ground to utilize new technologies, practices, and resources in order to feed our growing population.
Organic. Grass-Fed. Industrial. Factory Farms. Local Food. Farmers Markets. 155 People. Natural. Whole. Precision Ag. No-Till. These are just a few of the buzz words that identify some of what is going on with agriculture in America. There are two distinct groups: The first is the large-scale farmers who strive to produce food in the most efficient and economical way possible. The second is the local, organic-based movement whose goal is to produce a higher quality product using more natural, organic practices. For some reason there is a very distinct rift between these two groups, which is leading to both sides fighting over who is right and which is wrong. Both sides have good and bad.
The biggest challenge facing large scale industrialized agriculture is the exponentially rising cost of energy. It affects them in nearly every way imaginable from production costs to equipment costs to storage costs to transportation costs. It could very well soon not be feasible to operate heavy equipment, store crops for long periods of time, or haul crops across the nation and world. However, these operations are very productive. They keep raising the bar in production yields every year. They are cranking out huge production quantities per acre. This is a big deal when you consider the rising number of people and the declining amount of farm land.
The local, organic based food movement is becoming bigger news every day. It is in its own way a resurgence of the traditional small family farm. These producers are striving to produce a sustainable operation using very little energy and infrastructure. They are trying to produce a safer, healthier, higher quality product. There are all types of production practices implemented from high tunnels to deep mulching to rotational grazing that help them produce their crops. While these practices are sustainable and sorely needed, the production levels are low for these operations. It would not be feasible to depend upon small operations like these to feed the coming 9 billion people.
Along with these issues, America is coming out of a recession, and people are having to spend a higher percentage of their smaller income on food. America is very blessed to have the lowest percentage of income spent on food in the world, but we could do better. There are still people who are hungry every day. There are kids who only get a quality meal when they are in school. There are families who cannot afford to buy healthier food when McDonalds has a dollar menu. This, along with general changes in society has lead to an obesity epidemic. Farmers receive a lot of the blame, and while not all of it is theirs, they do share part of it. It is our product, and we should do a better job representing and marketing it.
The image of the farmer in the United States has become somewhat tainted. The average person is generations removed from the farm, and their idea of a farmer is someone who mistreats his land, animals, and families, and cannot be trusted with producing the food the world eats. This is a harsh image, but we the farmers are the only ones to blame. We are the ones who let our image become this without standing up for ourselves. The average age of the farmer is getting older, and there are fewer youth who are stepping into the role of feeding the world. It is going to be our responsibility to reverse that image.
While this is what is going on in the United States, I know that there are huge problems with food availability in the rest of the world. The rest of the world is in financial turmoil just like the United States. There are countries where people are spending three quarters of their income on food, and are having an extremely hard time finding enough food to keep their families from going hungry. Some places simply cannot feasibly produce enough food with the current practices, and in others governments prohibit using advanced technology to increase production. There are starving people everywhere from the superpowers like the United States to the third world countries.
Feeding the coming 9 billion people is going to be a huge problem and responsibility. I personally will be responsible for it, along with the rest of my farming community spread across the world. In order to feed the world, I have to start by feeding my community. My farm will start small, but it will grow. There is coming a new way in which we will produce, process, sell, and buy food. I intend to be at the forefront of that movement. There is a middle ground between the two main groups in the United States in which true food sustainability will be found. The combination of the best practices of each, along with new ones will result in producers being able to economically, safely, and morally produce the food required to feed our population.
It will also take the people of the world to get behind and support us, the farmer. We will need everyone’s help in order to do our jobs. We will need a huge, dependable, skilled labor supply. We will need the land base and resources in which to produce. We will need the research to find the new practices to use to produce more food safely. We need the freedom to produce our product. It is going to be a world-wide effort that will involve every man, woman, and child on this planet is one way or another.
I have attended many gatherings and conferences involving agriculture, and leap at the opportunity to attend more. There are many people out there who are more knowledgeable about different things than I, and the only way I will learn is to meet and talk with them. However, I have never attended a conference with people from all over the world, and I cannot imagine what I will learn, or what I will have an opportunity to share. The 120 people who will be at this summit will be at the forefront of feeding the world. We will all learn new things and meet new people, and we will be able to share our stories with each other. The youth is dwindling in agriculture, which means that we must become tighter-knit and support each other. Alone, I cannot feed the world, but if we stand together, know where we stand, and rise up to meet this challenge, We Will Surely Be Successful!