Challenging Opportunities For Agriculture Await
It is easy to get discouraged these days when we look at the challenges to survival in much of our modern agriculture. Between resource constraints and competition, growers may think it is easier to find a 9 to 5 job and not worry about the risk so inherent to agriculture. Risk has always been a part of agriculture and we will never be able to eliminate it. Who wants to eliminate it? Without risk, there is no opportunity for profit. The United Kingdom Office for Science concluded a project in 2011¹ that brought forth many opportunities and challenges facing the future of food and farming. They are worth reviewing as you consider your role in feeding a growing world.
The Sky’s The Limit
Despite all the challenges we face in agriculture, the reality is that most people would envy your market. The earth’s population is around 7 billion and projected to grow to more than 9.6 billion by 2050. Food demand is projected to double by 2050. The importance of agriculture is certain to grow, especially in light of the fact that land resources are likely limited to land already being used to grow food. The only way agriculture will be able to respond to doubling the food supply is with opportunities for profit.
Profits will encourage investment in resources. Science is one of those resources we used to meet the challenge of the last decade. The Green Revolution was a period in the mid to late 1900s that saw cereal production more than double as a result of irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development. Norman Borlaug was credited with being the “Father of the Green Revolution” and our current conditions call for a modern-day Bourlag.
It is widely noted that investments in research and development have been underfunded for the last 20 years. A reinvigorated investment in research and development could go far in meeting the challenges of feeding a growing world, which also will create opportunities within the agricultural community. Science is poised to meet the challenge, but how long can we wait to provide the necessary resources?
Areas Of Concern
The challenges to a growing demand for food are many. In order to meet the long-term demand for food, sustainable technologies will be necessary. Sustainability implies the use of resources at rates that do not exceed the earth’s ability to replace them. Agriculture currently consumes 70% of the world’s total ‘blue water’ withdrawals from rivers and aquifers available for use. Global water use could double by 2050. The challenge we face is: How do we double our food production with the limited supply of water we already face? Science is working to develop new and more efficient forms of irrigation technology. Without it, agriculture will be challenged to have access to the water necessary to double the food supply in 36 years.
Climate change also is affecting our ability to meet our need for more food. Unchecked climate change is said to be affecting crop growth and livestock performance. It leads to extreme weather that leads to more challenges in producing a reliable supply of food. There is likely to be a call for steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which will impact how we can grow our food. Science will need to step forward to address this issue so that food supply is not critically impacted. Remember, opportunity will prevail.
Global food security is necessary if we are to evolve as a world without chaos and conflict. The only way we can survive without mankind or the environment purging our population (for one version of that, read Dan Brown’s novel “Inferno”²) is to focus resources on food security.
While there will always be bumps and bruises along the way, I am optimistic about the long-term outlook. However, that future will require investments in technology by both the public and private sectors and a realization that risk management will be necessary to long-term survival.
¹Foresight. 2011. The Future of Food and Farming Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London, UK.
²Dan Brown. 2013. “Inferno,” Doubleday, New York.