Laramie – With today’s changing world and political climates, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Scott George discussed the many challenges that the agriculture industry is facing.
At the same time, he marked a number of areas for potential positive growth.
George presented during an industry experts panel at the 2013 AgriFuture conference, held in Laramie on Oct. 8-10.
“What are the future opportunities we have?” asked George. “I’ve started listing challenges, and there are so many we can talk about.”
One of the largest challenges facing U.S. agriculture today is the incredible population growth that is occuring across the globe.
“We have 316 million people in the U.S.,” said George. “We have a birth every eight seconds and a death every 12 seconds. That means the population is going up.”
At the same time, the world population is expanding at a higher rate.
“In the world, we have 219,000 births per day – that is 2.5 births every second,” he continued. “World populations are growing, and the world is increasing by 82 million people per year.”
At the same time that increasing populations provide a challenge to agriculture, he also noted that the world will look to the U.S. for food production.
With the impact of growing populations, coupled with challenges of loss of ag land each year, George said, “There are also some things that society has got to overcome.”
Of the things that society is lacking, George marked the lack of scientific literacy across the greater portion of the American public as concerning and detrimental to agriculture.
“Technology is important,” he said. “In 1940, one farmer could feed 19 people. Today, one farmer is feeding 155 people.”
Despite a declining beef cattle herd, George also noted that the U.S. is able to keep up with beef demand because increases in technology have allowed more pounds of beef to be produced per cow.
As world populations increase, George said that an increasing number of middle class citizens are seeking more protein.
“The challenge we have is that populations are growing and people want to improve their diet,” he explained. “We are seeing the desire and need for more food.”
The positive influence of technology on agricultural production, however, is not translated across the U.S. population.
“We have a mistrust of technology in society,” George commented, listing a number of technologies – from global position systems in tractors to genetically modified crops. “It is scary that people don’t accept technology, and there is concern.”
“Our second big challenge is technology,” George added. “How do we get people to accept and understand our technology?”
The role of technological advances in agriculture is powerful, he continued, but consumers are concerned about it.
“Science has helped us learn to use better genetics and get better nutrition out of the soil so the plants we are feeding are better, and we have better vaccination programs to keep animals healthier,” George commented. “It is because of science that cattle continue to produce better.”
Removed from ag
One of George’s main concerns, however, is that Americans are more removed from the farm than ever before.
“Consumers don’t understand what farmers do on the soil,” said George. “People don’t understand what we do and why we do it.”
With consumers voicing concern about hens in cages, hormones in cattle and sows in farrowing crates, George noted that they are only concerned because they don’t understand why ranchers utilize such practices.
“We have an issue with how we communicate about why we do what we do,” said George.
Current efforts continue to look at spreading more correct information about agriculture to consumers across the U.S.
“We are targeting food communicators,” said George. “We have formed the United States Farmers and Rancher Alliance (USFRA) and are talking to people.”
In targeting food communicators, he said that the agriculture industry has banded together to tell influential food bloggers and television stars about the ins-and-outs of the industry.
“We’ve talked about why we house sows in gestation crates and why we put cattle in feedyards,” he explained. “We have had some good dialogues and interesting interactions, and these people were fascinated by what we had to say.”
Chances for young people
The result of all of these challenges, said George, is that there is a greater need for young people to be involved in the agriculture industry in different ways.
“We don’t need everyone to go out and become farmers and ranchers,” he said. “We need help in all of these areas.”
George noted that scientists are necessary to continue to improve technology, and communicators are important to help relay information to other about agriculture.
“We need your help in all these areas,” said George.
“There are a lot of opportunities in agriculture,” added Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough. “Scott talked about the need for geneticists, engineers, international trade specialists and people who understand the law.”
“Whether you are in animal science or ag communication, the opportunities are there, and they are massive in agriculture,” Fearneyhough continued. “We need people from all walks of life to understand what we do and to teach us how to do things better.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.