The world population just reached another milestone in October – 7 billion people on planet earth. That’s 7,000,000,000 – a lot of mouths to feed. Yet some of the “great minds of our time” continue to insist that “agriculture is the main driver of most ecological problems on the planet”. While agriculture is under pressure from extremist groups and is seemingly maligned at every turn – just who do they expect to feed this population that will likely reach 9 billion by 2050?

Agriculture – Reviled or revered?

Just where in the world is this increase in the human population expected to occur? Where will the food come from? If you are 36 years of age, the world population has increased by 3 billion people during your life time and will have doubled by the time you are 50. In less than 40 years from now our population will probably have reached the 9 billion level.
(NOVA on-line)

Agriculture – Reviled or revered?

The troubling fact about this expected increase is simply that it appears that those that can least afford to feed children (i.e. less developed countries) may give birth to the most. That’s a moral dilemma that has huge implications for a global society. For example, animal rights advocates, who insist that all sentient beings are equal, may have to relent and agree that it is alright to kill rodents even if they can sense pain. What would happen if a poor undernourished population was infested with rats and vermin? Would we have epidemics like the black plague?

A lot of those implications are beyond my knowledge and understanding but, perhaps, we can address how this might affect those of us in the cattle business. Cereal grains (rice, wheat, corn, etc.) will likely be under heavy pressure from this growing population, if they can afford them. In my opinion, we should position ourselves for the future by competing less for grain. Can we lessen our dependence on corn for finishing beef cattle? Conventional wisdom says “no” but I believe that we will. The cow of the future will consume more forage from land not suitable for tillage and more by-products and alternative foods that aren’t intended for human consumption. What about the type of meat that we produce? This increase in population will not likely grill a T-bone in their back yard but might be glad to get a soy burger. Hence, we could have a “two-tiered” system of beef production . . . high-end and commodity beef.

The old adage about not criticizing agriculture with your mouth full will become passé when many people in the world are hungry and undernourished. I am tired of people who want to impose their “values” upon our noble profession. Maybe – just maybe – agriculture, including animal agriculture, will someday be revered instead of much maligned when people realize that we may hold the key to everyone’s future.

Source: Dr. Roy Burris, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky