Feeding the World in 2050


Guest author Mark Moore, published Farm Industry News story

Conferences around the world consider how farmers will be able to feed the world’s growing population, which is expected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050.

Agricultural research and development will be very important, just as when it helped farmers keep up when the world’s population doubled over the last 50 years.

But the task looks more difficult ahead. Production research and development must address all types of farms, including the 400 million farms in the world with less than 5 acres each. All farms will be needed to feed the world in the future.

“There will continue to be a decreasing area of agricultural land available per person globally for food production,” says David Leaver, president of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants. For example, in 1967 there were 4.2 acres of cropland/person, and in 2007, just 1.7 acres of cropland/person were available.

Costs and regulations

While private investment in research in the developed world has been strong, overall funding has slowed over the past two decades, especially in the public sector. Adding to this concern is the global economic situation. “When in cases of financial stress, often research and development is the first to suffer,” Leaver says.

Besides funding, there are other tough obstacles for more research and development. One is the intricate maze that a new agricultural product must negotiate to come to market. A myriad of regulatory hurdles throughout the global food chain cost companies millions of dollars to handle.

Julia Wheeler, director of research and development for DuPont Crop Protection, says, “The challenge is the cost required to successfully develop the product and the resources required to bring it to market. To be successful, we must collaborate with regulatory agencies to not only improve food production, but also maintain export opportunities.”

Streamlining and harmonizing regulations would make the entire process more efficient for not only the companies involved, but the countries involved as well.

“Recently, DuPont worked with key regulators in five countries on a Global Joint Review project, in which the regulators collaborated in reviewing the global regulatory dossier,” Wheeler says. “We found that the Global Joint Review process actually reduced the product review time, even though each country conducted its own risk assessment. That’s because by sharing information on the dossier evaluation, each country decreased duplication of effort and reduced the overall amount of work required to register the product.”


Another key for the future of ag research and development will be collaborative efforts among all stakeholders. Already, U.S. farmers have seen collaborations between major ag biotech companies to deliver new products (SmartStax, for example). “Collaboration will be critical to encourage discovery, development and registration of new agricultural products,” Wheeler says. “We can’t operate in a vacuum.”

Leaver is critical of what he sees as “silos,” where information is not readily exchanged among organizations and where some ag research and development currently operates. “Global food security should be the focus of all our initiatives, and we need a coordinated approach to reach that goal,” he says.

Countries such as China are seeing the need to develop a secure food supply and continue to pour a tremendous amount of resources into agricultural research and development. “China is investing a lot in agriculture, especially biotech,” Wheeler says.

But research and development efforts also must include Africa, where food security is critical. Here small farmers remain a vital part of the food supply. Investments in research and development will be crucial to help these farmers contribute to the world’s food supply.

“For 40 years, global food production has kept pace with population growth and per-capita-income growth,” Leaver says. “Agricultural research and development has been a major driver of this increase. The next 40 years will mean similar productivity growth is required to satisfy the continuing rise in food demand.”

Wheeler says removing unnecessary barriers that prevent new technologies from getting into the hands of those who need it is critical to ensure continued investment. “We are in an era of urgent challenges and unique opportunities,” she says. “We must work together to meet these challenges.”

Spring planting tips

A mild winter and higher than average temperatures have some farmers anxiously awaiting spring planting, but before they begin they need to consider a few tips.

Bill Field, a Purdue University Extension farm safety specialist, states that the most important safety tips for farmers to remember this spring are to set realistic work priorities and to be prepared.

“Farmers often feel pressured to get into the fields too early and that can often cause problems," said Field. "Taking time now to get ready for planting season will prevent more mishaps in the long run."

According to a Corn & Soybean Digest article, one way for farmers to get ready for spring planting is to take an assessment of previous years' problems and make changes now to save time and energy when the planting season begins.

Ohio farmers should also be prepared to deal with challenges brought by the lingering harvest effects of 2011 and the unusually warm winter experienced this year, such as ruts, compaction, early weed growth, insects and disease.

Tips for spring-planting challenges (Ohio’s Country Journal)

Ruts and Compaction: Light tillage should be used for ruts that must be filled before planting and used only when soil conditions are favorable. No-till farmers should perform tillage only where ruts are present and don’t disturb the rest of the field. Performing unnecessary tillage to an entire field will be detrimental to the long-term benefits of continuous no-till.

Early Weed Growth: Application of an early burndown while weeds are small enough to be controlled by herbicides is important. Farmers should be prepared to make timely burndown applications this spring when field conditions are right.

Insects: With more insects, seed treatments like fungicides and insecticides will benefit the early development of seedlings. Biological seed treatments that grow with the plant will offer extended protection in the early stages of crop development as well.

Disease: Farmers should work with their seed company to choose hybrids or varieties with disease resistance. It’s critical to know what diseases were present previously and select resistant varieties accordingly. Tilling residue and rotating crops are also options for managing diseases that survive on crop residue.

While farmers can’t control the weather, they can evaluate problems and make timely management decisions to increase their chances for a successful 2012 harvest.

Have you or do you know a farmer who has started to prepare for spring planting? Do you have any tips to offer? How are you or a farmer you know overcoming spring-planting challenges?

Photo obtained from: 123rf.com

Wet and Mild Winter

Wet and Mild Winter

There’s been minimal need for rock salt and snow shovels this winter in Ohio. With temperatures hovering in the 40s — and even rocketing to 70 degrees in Columbus this month — the season is one of the most mild and wet in recent memory.

While most Ohioans cheer not having to scrape ice off their cars or shovel snow-covered sidewalks, it’s a different story for the state’s farmers, who could experience a variety of weather-related challenges.

For example, according to The Ohio State University Extension, perennial fruit crops survive cold winter temperatures by experiencing a hardening-off process in the fall that leads to dormancy. A period of cold temperatures, called the “chilling requirement,” is necessary for proper fruit-bud development and a productive bloom during the growing season. The chilling requirement is different for each fruit species and variants within the species. It remains to be seen how this winter’s milder temps will impact the state’s fruit crops.

“It’s too soon to tell if there will be an affect or not on apples and peaches,” said Bill Dodd, president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Marketing Association in a recent Bucyrus Telegraph article. “It looks like the weather is expected to get back to ‘normal’ and if that happens, that’s a good thing. There’s no damage yet and the critical time is yet to come.”

The state’s wheat farmers are also being challenged by Mother Nature. There’s concern that 25 percent of the wheat crop might be damaged because of standing water in fields.

“Farmers make repairs via tillage,” said Steve Prochaska from the OSU Extension in the same Telegraph article. “They’ve not been able to do that. It is a major topic this winter as to what they are going to do this spring and to till mud is not an option.”

The situation is also causing concern among Ohio’s maple-syrup producers, who rely on above-freezing temps during the day and freezing temps at night to optimize sap production.

“Last year, we had perfect weather and a perfect season,” said Doug Fitch, a maple-syrup producer in Milton Township, in the Ashland Times-Gazette. “We could get bigger runs earlier if it gets cold, but we’re not getting those clear, frosty nights.”

America Celebrates Agriculture March 8

Today — Thursday, March 8 — is the 39th anniversary of National Ag Day, appropriately the same day that I post my weekly blog dedicated to the agriculture industry.

Deservedly, agriculture has its own day in recognition of what it provides to our country and its residents.

National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA). ACA is a nonprofit organization of leaders in the agricultural, food and fiber community, dedicating its efforts to increasing the public's awareness of agriculture's role in modern society. ACA developed a video to promote its important mission.

The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:
  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy
  • Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry

According to Dean Bev Durgan of the Minnesota University Extension:

“We are living in a time of record land prices and good profits from agriculture. Today, agriculture employs 14 percent of the U.S. workforce and agricultural graduates have multiple job offers. There is an increased recognition of the importance of farmers and food. Even Bill Gates, the second-richest person in the world, is now devoting his wealth toward improving agricultural productivity.”

Though those of us active with the industry understand its significance, there is still much work to be done to educate consumers about the role of ranching and farming to sustaining and supporting American people and the U.S. economy.

“Not only do we need to teach consumers about farming, but those of us who work in agriculture need to continually upgrade our knowledge,” said Durgan.

Diane Gress from Shreve, Ohio, won the 2012 Ag Day Video Essay Contest and importantly noted during her video, “Most consumers do not realize the importance of agriculture to their everyday lives. In reality, from tomatoes to T-shirts, agriculture provides a myriad of products that consumers never connect to agricultural production.”

The consumer education process beings with American youth. Countrywide programs are essential to increase awareness of the necessity of the industry and range from state Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H groups, to national efforts such as the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign.

It’s been widely reported that farmers and ranchers will be responsible for feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050, more than the current 144 people each farmer is currently responsible for feeding.

ACA describes American agriculture best — “abundant, affordable, amazing.” So today, I urge you to honor a member of the industry.

Are you doing your part to educate friends, family and acquaintances about the role of agriculture?

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What is ACRE?

At this time of year, most farmers are already thinking about spring planting; however, they should also be considering enrolling in the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program.

The ACRE Program provides a safety net based on state revenue losses. When the ACRE program is selected, it substitutes the price-based safety net of counter-cyclical payments as part of the Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program.

The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides farms with a revenue guarantee. The formula multiples the five-year state average by the most recent two-year national price average for each eligible commodity.

Eligible commodities
  • Wheat, barley and oats
  • Grain sorghum and corn
  • Upland cotton
  • Rice
  • Soybeans
  • Other oilseeds: canola, crambe, flaxseed, mustard seed, rapeseed, safflower, sesame seed and sunflower seed Peanuts
  • Dry peas, lentils and small and large chickpeas

For the 2012 crop year, the two-year price average will be based on the 2010 and 2011 crop years. When all criteria are considered, if the target and annual revenue is less than the revenue guarantee, the farm is eligible for support with the ACRE program, assuming that all other qualifications are met.

Because Ohio had two years of record-high grain prices, the revenue guarantee in the ACRE program is very good.

According to Chris Bruynis, assistant professor and Ohio State University Extension educator, ACRE could be the right safety net option for some farmers in Ohio this season because of the strong protection it will offer.

“Examining the numbers and price/yield assumptions, farmers can speculate about the probability of an ACRE payment being triggered in 2012 and if it’s right for them,” Bruynis said.

Bruynis estimates the price guarantee for 2012 corn to be $5.69 per acre and 2012 soybeans to be $11.50 per acre.

An Ohio’s Country Journal article states that the current strong prices do not indicate much potential for ACRE payments in 2012 if yields are average or above average. The ACRE program does, however, offer strong downside protection for what could be very volatile marketing months ahead.

Farmers have until June 1, 2012 to elect and enroll in the ACRE program. For more information, visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

Are you or do you know a farmer who has participated in the ACRE program? What has been your experience with the program? Do you plan to participate in the program?

Photo obtained from: kneb.com