Texas Farm Bureau: The Future—Starvation or Plenty

There will be more than 9 billion people on this planet in the year 2050. Can we feed them? I believe the answer is – yes we can. I also believe it’s possible that we might not be able to.

It’s possible, if not likely, that I will still be around to see the result of that question, at age 96. However, I have three sons and a soon to be born granddaughter that I expect will be among that number. So I have more than a passing interest in the potential of our food supply. We are doing some silly things in that regard. We are limiting our ability to produce food with foolish regulations, high taxes and a public mindset that seems determined to focus on the trivial.

There’s been a thought circulating on the Internet in recent weeks that sums it up well. Though I can’t claim to be the author, let me paraphrase. When you and I go to the doctor, we expect the best. We want to see modern technology in terms of pharmaceuticals, imaging equipment and surgical tools. We expect it. We demand it.

Why then, is there debate over the significant question of future food production? It sometimes seems that 21st Century farmers and ranchers are expected to meet a growing – even daunting – increase in food needs with the production tools of the 19th Century.

We can’t say no to everything. Crop protection chemicals, pesticides if you will, are rigorously tested with safety margins built in. Modern fertilizers can bring productivity to barren lands. Genetic advances give hope to the hungry where little has existed before. Those same tools can create plants with their own pest resistance built in to the genetic code. Plants are being developed that require less water.

The babble about “factory farms” is getting old. Despite the lack of a workable definition, this phrase is used to damn an entire industry. There are economies of scale. If we are not able to minimize costs and take advantage of these efficiencies, then I am worried about the world’s ability to grow enough food for the billions of 40 years from now.

Decades ago, American’s began leaving the farm to build a society more affluent than the world has ever known. It was made possible by a developing agricultural technology that allowed fewer farmers and ranchers to produce more.

The local food movement is a fine idea and deserves further development. It’s not a formula for feeding the world, though. Organic food is fine for those that want it. The market will respond. However, we cannot meet our future food needs by adhering strictly to those methods. Food grown by those means is not any safer or tastier either.

Reasonable regulation for food and environmental safety is only prudent. What we have now, and what is proposed for the immediate future, goes far beyond reasonable. Yes, we can feed the world of 2050. But we can’t do it by tying the hands of our food production system – farmer, ranchers, researchers and agribusiness.

Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
Follow Gene on Twitter and Facebook.

11 Responses to “The future – starvation or plenty?”

  1. Local/Organic food is no safer or tastier? This Sunday, go to your local farmers’ market and pick up a few local tomatoes then stop off at Randall’s and pick up a couple of Romas and compare. I would feel sad for anyone whose palette can’t detect the robust superiority of the local varieties as compared to the mealy, wax covered impostors from 1000 miles away. I bet you’ll find that local tomatoes are far tastier.

    As for safer, most small scale local farms, rather than spray round-up, use Integrated Pest Management practices to reduce the effect of natural pests on their crops. For the consumer this means fewer chemicals on their food. In your last post you yourself decry such chemicals as harmful. The reality is that we just don’t know how bad these chemicals are. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to have unnecessary chemicals on my food. I just don’t think it’s safe.

    So, safer and tastier? Local is the way to go.

  2. Mike Barnett says:

    Justin:

    Thanks for your comments. I think you misinterpreted the last post, "Think twice about environmental responsibility." I didn’t say the use of pesticides is harmful. I said the misuse of pesticides can be harmful. I stand by that, whether that misuse is an organic or synthetic pesticide.

    I agree with you that fresh tomatoes are going to taste better. There’s nothing better than a home-grown tomato on a grilled hamburger. I don’t believe that growing those tomatoes by organic methods makes them either more tasty or safer.

    There’s nothing wrong with the organic and local food movements. I applaud those who desire fresh and organic food and are willing to pay a higher price of it, and those farmers and ranchers who supply those needs. I agree with Gene, however, that local and organic are not the answer in feeding a growing world population.

    Mike Barnett

  3. Justin, perhaps I should have been more clear. Locally grown anything by organic or other means will have advantages over mass production. The tomatoes you mentioned have been bred for mechanical harvest and while nutritous enough, may not measure up to home grown aesthetically. What I meant to say is that organic production has no nutritional or safety advantages over more conventional means. For example, my mother’s garden produce is second to none, and she does use chemicals.

    Integrated pest management does include some chemical use. Justin, in fact, EVERYONE that uses them uses as little as possible. The darn things are very expensive. My primary point is this. Neither locally grown or organic production can feed the world as the technology stands today. Commerical agriculture is the only hope of feeding those nine billion people we’ll have on the planet in 40 years.

    These links shed considerable light on the subject.

    http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-calcook29-2009jul29,0,2340961.story?track=rss

    http://www.food.gov.uk/foodindustry/farmingfood/organicfood/

    http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/organicreviewreport.pdf

    Thanks for participating in our discussion.

    Gene

  4. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) a billion humans of the 6.7 billion world population are hungry now. Simultaneously, the US hit a new high of obesity this year with 30% of the adult population qualifying, third in the world behind only Western Samoa and Kuwait.

    So I figure hunger in 2050 will be much like hunger now. The rich will get fatter and the poor…not. So maybe we need to work on financing and distribution of food supplies at the same time our mad scientists are tinkering with the genetics of our broccoli.

    I have to second the comment on the Roma tomatoes. I picked up a couple of the most beautiful tomatoes I had ever seen the other day at the store. They were Romas. They could have been wax; they had no discernable taste at all and were durable enough that they could have easily been pressed into service as retriever dog training aids.

  5. Poor people will always suffer the most, and they will suffer even more if we continue these games of trivial pursuit. But if we keep the blinders on now, and the world is severely food deficient in the near future, it will start with food riots and continue with war. People fight over oil. They will fight over food, too. At least, they will if there’s not enough to go around. We need reasonable environmental regulation, but we do not need to regulate every mudhole in America. We need food safety, but we also need to think about how small a "quadrillion" is. We can measure that now. Most of all, we need to keep farmers and ranchers on the land, or prepare to consume the fruits of other nation’s food safety regulations.

    Gene

  6. By the way, according to Wikipedia, a part per billion is – one second in a time period of approximately 31.7 years.

    A part per trillion is – one drop of water in 20 Olympic size swimming pools two meters deep. Also one second in 31,700 years.

    A quadrillion is one drop of water in a cube of water approximately the size of the Empire State Building – one second of time in 31.7 million years.

  7. Interesting description of a part per billion Gene. Several years ago, when the world population was a five billion, I heard that description to be described as the Chicago Bulls starting five playing the rest of the world.

  8. foolish regulations is the right term. I believe it’s MORE than possible, (after all a huge amount of the current 6 billion is starving) but regulatory limitations and taxes do put a huge dent into the food production industry. So it’s interesting to see how it’s going to turn out.

  9. The question isn’t whether we will be able to produce enough food to feed everyone in the world. the question should be:

    1) Will our idiotic politicians stop experimenting on changing corn (Normally a food) into fuel?

    And

    2) Will the governments of these third world countries where the population growth is happening allow foreign aid (ie food)
    into their countries without siphoning all of it to their corrupt cronies.

    I have no doubt in my mind that we can continually feed the every growing population. The question is will we be allowed to.

  10. I know DVD Rental mostly wants to get his/her weblink posted here, but some effort went into the post, so I’ll let it go. We don’t allow these very often. It does give me a chance to address one of the myths about fuel ethanol. Most of the corn grown in the U.S. is used for livestock feed. In recent years, a significant amount has been diverted to produce fuel ethanol as both an additive to meet air quality attainment and for development as a fuel of the future. With fossil fuels selling under $3 a gallon, the economics don’t work. At $4 a gallon – different story. We do still need some to meet air quality standards. Many people believe that all the corn is used up in the ethanol refining process. Not so. The process uses the starches and sugars for ethanol fermentation. Actually, a very high quality animal feed – distillers mash, is a valuable by product of the process. Ethanol does increase the demand for corn, and sometimes the price. However, turning corn into fuel ethanol does not substanially diminish the amounts available for animal feed. The real future of alchohol fuels is CELLULOSIC, making fuel ethanol from wood, grass and other fibrous materials. In the meantime, we are learning and developing the market with corn as the primary feedstock.

  11. Billy B. Brown says:

    Just a quick note to point out grain sorghum is gaining favor over corn in some locations for making ethanol. A bushel of grain sorghum which is much cheaper than a bushel of corn makes the same amount of ethanol at the same quality. The sorghum DDG’s (Dried Distillers Grain..what is left after the ethanol process) are finding favor in the livestock industry as well.

    Two uses for one grain. Use it as both a source of ethanol and feed what’s left to livestock. Seems damned efficient to me. I wouldn’t knock it.

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