The American public has the potential for having the highest quality of life in the world. A major reason for this is due to the Green Revolution that began in the 1950s, which involved the introduction of genetically superior, disease-resistant cultivated crops, mass production and use of petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides, expanded irrigation, and the development of crop rotation.
The Green Revolution reshaped the U.S. into a dense urban society. At present it is estimated that a mere 2% of the U.S. population feeds the nation and the average age of that 2% is over 55. As a result, the average American does not experience hunger and spends less than 9% of their total disposable income on food.
Many American consumers have become complacent and take it for granted that food will always be plentiful at a low cost. The question becomes: Is U.S. agriculture capable of meeting future needs?
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization recently stated that in just 40 years global food production must double. This doubling of food production is necessary in order to head off mass global hunger and feed the projected global population of nine billion by 2050. There is a general consensus that agriculture has the capability to meet the food needs of 8–10 billion people but there is little agreement on how this can be achieved by sustainable means. Sustainability implies that high yields can be maintained through agricultural practices that have acceptable environmental impacts.
Hindering our ability to feed the world in 2050 and beyond are the efforts of well-intended, public-funded special interest and radical environmental groups. These groups continue to push for unrealistic legislation that hinders agriculture’s ability to produce food and fiber in a supposedly environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
Much of this unrealistic legislation has been successful primarily because many of our county, state and national politicians are far removed from agriculture as are the population base they represent. The tsunami that agriculture is facing threatens our ability to feed the world and meet those projected 2050 needs.
About half of the world’s land surface is suitable for rangeland only and not for growing food crops. More than two-thirds of land used for grazing in the U.S. is not suitable for raising crops. Rangelands, however, produce significant quantities of grasses, shrubs and forbs that only livestock can utilize.
Livestock contributes 40% of the global value of agricultural production and supports the livelihoods and food security of almost 1 billion people. Globally, livestock contributes 15% of total food energy and 25% of dietary protein. Well-managed grazing of rangelands, grasslands, and pastures is the most sustainable form of agriculture known.
How can agriculture meet the growing food supply needs? How much longer can society disregard the fundamental importance of our agriculture industry? When will it change? This situation may only change after hunger pains are experienced by the general public similar to what occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As long as the bulk of our population has access to a cheap, reliable and quality food source, along with financially supporting radical anti-agriculture interests, we will continue to see erosion of our agriculture base and our ability to feed the world.
Agriculturists have one more job to do that hasn’t been necessary in the past. Because of the publics’ huge disconnect to the land and agriculture, it’s up to each and every agriculturist to educate the public about environmentally sound food and fiber production practices.
- We must reinforce the safety, wholesomeness and importance of our domestically produced food supply.
- We must defend only the production practices that are environmentally sound and not excuse those practices and producers who do not subscribe to these production methods.
- We must also listen to our detractors and consider that possibly they are not entirely wrong. We must not assume we are always right and consider that other people may have something to contribute in reaching long term agricultural sustainability.
As a consumer, before you criticize agriculture, consider your full stomach and comfortable lifestyle. Keep in mind that production agriculture is greatly responsible for the pleasures of life we all have grown accustomed to enjoying. As agriculturists, it is our responsibility for making a constructive and convincing argument to those who disagree with the issues.
Ron Torell is president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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