Catlett speaks on ‘golden age for agriculture’ at AgriFuture
Laramie – Lowell Catlett, Regents Professor in Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business and Extension Economics and Dean of the College of Agriculture at New Mexico State University, joined nearly 150 participants at the AgriFuture 2011 in Laramie on Oct. 13 with a dynamic presentation on the future of agriculture and the unlimited opportunities available to young people in the industry.
AgriFuture 2011 marks the second year of the conference, which is geared toward bringing young people together with professionals and producers to learn and talk about agriculture issues. People from Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming gathered for nearly two days to meet and discuss the opportunities in agriculture.
Catlett opened the conference by saying that today we are in the golden age of agriculture.
“No one knows about the future,” said Catlett, “Trust your own instincts and be ready for it. We’re won’t know the future, but we can talk about the things that are happening.”
Catlett began by emphasizing his “theory of the long nose.” By looking at the past and thinking about how we can apply similar concepts to future problems, he noted that the problems of the future are solvable.
The example of Barry Marshall, a medical doctor who won the Nobel Prize, provided affirmation that the past does provide answers for the future. Marshall read a paper that identified a specific bacteria as the cause of ulcers in cattle and deduced that a similar bacteria may be causing ulcers in humans.
“It was difficult because the dogma of the time was that ulcers were caused by stress,” explained Catlett. “Then, in 1991, the National Institutes of Health said that 92 to 98 percent of all ulcers were caused by that bacteria.”
“It’s the theory of the long nose in action,” said Catlett.
“Who would have thought that we could take corn and make ethanol? The moonshiners knew that,” quipped Catlett.
Further Catlett looked at the today as the golden age of agriculture.
“We’ve never had this in my lifetime,” said Catlett.
Catlett added that after providing for our basic needs of food, housing and security, Americans only spend 31 percent of their disposable income.
“I’m going to buy you food and let you eat almost one out of every two meals not at home. I’m going to buy you a home and pay your utilities, including hooking you up to the Internet,” said Catlett. “We spend the lowest percentage of our disposable income on necessities in the world.”
“Now what I’ve got left in America is 69 percent of the disposable income to play and buy crap,” added Catlett. “What you have is enough vibrancy for the economy to grow.”
Catlett continued that, as countries around the world start increasing their income, the consumption of meat increases.
“When you have more money, you start changing your diet,” said Catlett. “There was a four-fold increase in meat consumption in China in the last 10 years, most of it was poultry and most of it came from the U.S.”
“Growth is happening around the world, and that is why this is the golden age,” emphasized Catlett. “It isn’t just about calories anymore, it is about all the other things.”
Reflecting back, Catlett recalled the generation of baby boomers was concerned about subsisting and obtaining the basic necessities for life. This generation spent time saving money and putting money away into retirement and savings accounts.
“I’m telling you that there are only four million of those people left in the world, and in five years 90 percent will be dead. In 10 years the last generation whose mindset was about food will be gone,” explained Catlett. “We will live in the ‘dream space.’”
Dream space, as defined by Catlett, is the time when we have reached the levels of searching for self-actualization according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In agriculture, Catlett defined the dream space as consisting of niche and segmented markets, including organic, antibiotic-free and free range.
“I’m here to tell you that we should be proud of our differentiated market place,” said Catlett. “Agriculture isn’t just about calories and producing food anymore, it is just as much about all of the connection that we make. That is what the golden age is all about.”
As producers take advantage of options in their operations through value-added products, as well as things like hunting and the comforts of the agriculture lifestyle, the industry continues to develop.
Catlett further described a producer in Australia taking full advantage of opportunities by building a retirement facility on his agriculture land, offering the benefits of a country lifestyle and the comforts of home. Other producers who are taking advantage of opportunities are those who supplement their farming income through hunting or growing organic peanuts in New Mexico.
“We like to be around people, plants and animals,” said Catlett. “People are buying houses where there are grass and trees, and spending much of their money on pets.”
“Agriculture is the new gold,” continued Catlett, explaining that the industry encompasses and emphasizes the things that Americans seek and can obtain.
“It is about the most phenomenal opportunities ever available on the planet,” Catlett told students. “If you doubt, just remember Henry Ford, who said, ‘If I would have asked the American people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. I gave them something a little different and better.’”
“We’re putting in things we never dreamed possible,” said Catlett. “Get ready for it.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.