“The farmer and the cowman should be friends, Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.” Oops! I just got done playing in the pit orchestra for Oklahoma! and I need to switch gears. Though, this month’s topic does require cooperation. Environmental stewardship and meeting future demand for food is stacking up to possibly be our greatest challenge.
The world’s population today is at seven billion people. It is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. To give a little perspective as to how to feed these additional people, here is an observation from the article “Food Cliff” from the September 2013 issue of The Progressive Farmer. “The world greets 219,000 new people every day. That’s the equivalent of one Britain every year. If we assume most of this new population is from Asia and consuming 1,200 calories a day, then one acre feeds 15 people, at 18,350 calories an acre. That means we’ll need the equivalent of 14,600 new acres every day.” Whoa!
I am not preaching doomsday with these facts, but I do think we need to approach the future with a strong sense of stewardship for Mother Nature. Using the definition from Wikipedia, stewardship is the “responsibility for sustainable development shared by all those whose actions affect environmental performance, economic activity, and social progress, reflected as both a value and a practice by individuals, organizations, communities, and competent authorities.” To me, this means cooperation by all of us.
Our planet Earth is finite. Increasing food production to meet the needs of a growing population is a challenge. The Progressive Farmer article “Our Greatest Challenge” suggests four areas where significant advances are needed for food security. While the challenge is global, food needs to be grown and produced and available locally where it’s needed most. Secondly, the effort has to be collaborative requiring governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and science to help create solutions. Thirdly, science has to become a local wisdom. The science has to work in a practical way. And fourth, solutions have to be sustainable – not only meeting the needs of today but also the needs of tomorrow.
The good news is we have been taking steps in the right direction. Going back to the dust bowl of the 1930s, soil and water conservation districts and the forerunner of NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) were created to promote soil health in improving our soil to prevent the Dust Bowl from happening again. We proved this worked because our drought conditions last year were nearly as bad as the 1930s and yet we survived much better. Our encouragement of use of cover crops to nourish and protect soil health has and will help to increase crop production. Clean water practices and preservation of our lakes and rivers have and will sustain and create new wildlife habitat. Planting trees and maintaining forestland will prevent erosion that can take away healthy, rich soils. These natural environmental practices have proven to work.
Our college and university agricultural science departments continue to look at ways to increase production. The research and development divisions of agribusiness also continue to explore production through genetics and prevention of crop disease. I go back to my Oklahoma! analogy, “Territory folks should stick together, territory folks should all be pals.” It is imperative that environmentalists, farmers, businesses, non-profit organizations, and governments work together to meet “Our Greatest Challenge.” We have shown we can work together and need to continue to do so.
Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner. I look back over the last year since last Thanksgiving and can remember good things and bad things that have happened in this world. I have come to realize that good and bad things do happen. But I am so thankful for family and friends and living in LaGrange, Ind. We have challenges before us to protect and preserve Mother Earth and to meet future demands for food. With cooperation, we can meet and exceed these challenges. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!