OMAHA (DTN) -- The future of food depends on the future of farms and triggers a lot of questions. What will farms look like, and how will farmers produce enough to feed almost 10 billion people expected by 2050? What changes are needed, especially as the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) already indicates the global food environment is deteriorating while food prices keep rising? What will people want to eat, and will they be able to afford what they need?
In this special series being launched today, DTN will look at food insecurity but also some of the future trends, crops farmers plan to grow, technology they'll use and even new ways to grow their crops and process their animals more efficiently.
REASONS FOR FOOD INSECURITY
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. representative to the United Nations (UN) and U.S. representative to the UN Security Council, explains myriad reasons for food insecurity.
"COVID has strained supply lines, energy costs have made it more expensive to produce and ship food. Rising temperatures and severe droughts have destroyed crops and left fields fallow. And, in many conflicts around the world, food is intentionally blocked or destroyed, and dictators use starvation as a weapon of war," she said.
"Farmers are continually being asked to grow significantly more food with fewer resources and increasing scrutiny from society," said Tim Glenn, executive vice president of the Seed Business Unit for Corteva Agriscience. "Farmers face challenges like increasing pressure from the environment, whether it's for pests, diseases or changing environment, the need to improve the productivity of their farms while ensuring profitability to manage their operations, and most importantly, access to technology and knowledge that they need to support their operations."
U.S. ROLE IN FEEDING WORLD
American farmers have a key role in feeding the world. The U.S. exports grains and feeds, soybeans, livestock products, tree nuts, fruits, vegetables and other products, with Canada, East Asia, the EU and Mexico as its main trading partners.
"For corn, soybeans and wheat, (U.S.) yields are expected to increase at rates consistent with historic trends, reflecting continuing advancements in production practices and in technology, including improvements in seed varieties and chemicals. Higher yields are expected to more than compensate for reduced planted acreage, resulting in record-high production for corn and soybeans, and increased wheat production. However, projections show wheat production remaining well below levels from most of the past two decades," reported USDA in its February "Amber Waves" newsletter about agricultural baseline projections up to 2032.
As protein consumption trends change, the U.S. will adapt and expects to be second only to China for the total increase of meat production in the next 10 years. But will those crops and meat that the U.S. produces be enough?
INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY ON LESS LAND
Henning Otte Hansen, from the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, spoke to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists meeting last summer. He said one of the global challenges to food and agriculture is to double ag production in the next 40 years, but this will need to be done by increasing yields and having more efficient farmers, because the agricultural area will not be expanded.
He said almost 5 billion acres of farmland and forest have been completely or partially destroyed in the last 50 years; by 2050, farmland in the world is expected to increase only by 8%, or almost 173 million acres. He warns climate change will reduce ag production in Africa by 15 to 30%.
He added farmers will produce more food while they attempt to balance farming versus nature, genetically modified (GM) versus organic farming, environment versus increasing production and food versus fuel. Water will be a scarce resource for irrigation.
European farmer Kati Partanen, a board member with the World Farmers' Organisation, said it's not a case of big farms are bad for the environment and small ones aren't. "So, any size can be economically efficient. Any size can be environmentally good." She added there isn't an optimal size of farm. "No, it's very much depending on the conditions and the management of the farm."
LIVING IN A DIVERSE WORLD
David Leishman, agricultural counselor with the U.S. Embassy in Paris, stressed we live in a world that is very diverse. Even in the U.S., agriculture in each state is different, such as Iowa from Vermont, in terms of crops, climate and labor.
"I think the challenge for the future of agriculture is how to adapt technology in an efficient way to address the challenges ... We can't forget the fact that agriculture is really a local activity -- we grow food in a particular location. And, if we're trying to feed the world, we really need to use every instrument available efficiently to be able to address that challenge," Leishman explained.
This ranges from genetically modified crops to climate-smart agriculture, which boost production and benefit the environment, to controlled environmental agriculture (CEA), such as greenhouses, tunnels and vertical farming in buildings. CEA includes hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics that can control optimal growing conditions, use a lot less water, as well as protect the plants from pests and diseases.
Hansen said to produce more food, other options will be needed: lab meat, artificial meat, synthetic milk and vertical farming. Plenty Unlimited Inc. recently announced its plans to build the world's largest and most advanced vertical-farming research center in Laramie, Wyoming. The more than 60,000-square-foot facility will be built on 16 acres of land.
Tomorrow's menu could include synthetic milk, insect ingredients (such as flour made from crushed crickets) and appetizing algae grown at sea that is already a core part of Japanese diets, Hansen said.
Partanen emphasized success requires access. "We are wasting potential if we don't have equal opportunities, equal opportunities among men and women and other groups, and also for young farmers. And, there's very often a lack of access: access to land and finance, (and access to) education and training or advisory. So, if we don't pay attention to this lack of access, we are clearly losing potential, and we will not for sure be feeding 10 billion people by 2050."
Access to markets is also critical. Luis Fernando Haro Encinas, director general of Mexico's National Agricultural Council, which represents 1.8 million producers, pointed to trade success with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Haro highlighted the uniqueness and importance of the North America region, and its ability to feed more than 500 million people in the three countries. "Very few countries in the world can say that, through this trade relationship, we can assure supply for our countries' food supply." He added that in the region, they can produce all types of products in many different seasons, and the agreement led Mexico to focus more on certification, food safety, production efficiency, sustainability and treatment of workers.
But, Haro said the world faces challenges, and a population of 10 billion will require more services and food. "We need to increase the food production almost 60% compared to now, so this is a big challenge for all of us."
Christian Friis Bach, from www.warfair.org, is an agronomist and farmer, has been a member of parliament in Denmark and has worked for the UN in different humanitarian organizations. "Historically, there have been predictions continuously saying that we will run out (of food), and we will see the devastating impacts it will have on the world. Farmers have beaten all these expectations," he said. "As wheat prices go up, farmers all over the world will get higher prices. And, especially the poor farmers and farmers in Africa, you know, they will also react to this. They have seen devastating depths in global prices and unstable markets for decades. If we see higher prices, it can boost farm production, also in poor countries, and there's no bigger mechanism to create growth, income and jobs in the country than farmers and in production."
The global food security crisis must be faced head-on with U.S. foreign policy, but also with China doing more to help other countries. It contributed to the extensive debt of many of the African countries, Thomas-Greenfield explained, adding that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund also need to play a much more aggressive role in addressing the debt crisis in countries as part of dealing with global food insecurity.
For more on climate-smart agriculture, visit the Progressive Farmer November 2022 issue at
Elaine Shein can be reached at email@example.com
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