Not long, I’m afraid. Two factoids have been floating around the ag community for a few years: (1) We will have to produce about twice as much food by 2050 to feed the fast-growing world population, and (2) We waste at least a third and maybe as much as half of the food we produce.
Working hard to solve point #2 will help but certainly not cure the problem. Those of us in the ‘developed’ world will always buy more than we can consume, and our monthly refrigerator/pantry clean-outs to rid ourselves of products past their ‘use by’ dates will always put an alarming amount of perfectly good food in the trash bin. Shipping food to economically stressed locations around the world to help feed millions faced with the hard luck of famine - or what’s euphemistically called internal strife - will always be a good deed held hostage to poor distribution channels and petty politics.
So food insecurity, the more politically correct term that now describes starvation on a massive scale, will always be with us. We can work hard to make it less ubiquitous but we can never eliminate it. What can we do?
Dr. H. Russell Cross, Professor and Head of the Department of Animal Science at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M, and former top gun at FSIS, presented some interesting facts to the audience at the International Livestock Congress in Denver a few days ago. One of his most painful points was public funding of research for U.S. animal agriculture has been shrinking for years. In fact, funding for all U.S. ag research is at an all-time low.
Those research dollars fund advancements in technology, an area that many foodies abhor. Better technology, though, is one of the necessary tools we need to help grow our way out of a global food crunch and escape the widespread civil unrest caused by people desperately trying to feed their starving families.
Small family farms will always be with us, but, just as we can no longer rely on mules to plow the South 40, we can’t ignore the necessary advances in mechanization and hybrids (animal and seed) and the production improvements they ultimately bring to the kitchen table. Let’s add two more limitations to the mix, too. Land for agriculture is shrinking as more of it is being converted to creeping urbanization. Water, our most important natural resource, is becoming scarcer as drought continues to plague farmland around the world. And pressure on natural aquifers as a replacement for rain continues to be a ‘drain’ on what was once thought to be an almost limitless resource.