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Feeding a hungry world

Al Gustin, farm byline writer
Al Gustin

I don’t recall all the details of the radio ad that ran this past winter. But the gist of the ending was, “We’ll do our job so you can do yours – feed a hungry world.”

In my column last month, I referred to the productivity of U.S. agriculture and one reason for it. Ag industry leaders boast that we are the envy of the rest of the world, because U.S. farmers and ranchers produce enough food to feed all of us in this country and millions more.

Charlie Arnot, the head of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI), is quoted as saying, “The global population is forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050. Feeding them will require technology and innovation that will help farmers raise more animals and raise more crops on the land already in production.”

How do farmers feel about the lofty and laudable accomplishment – feeding a hungry world – and the challenge ahead? Apparently, they don’t think about it much. It’s not what drives them or gives them the most satisfaction. Farmers responding to one survey I saw ranked it rather low. Those farmers focused more on simply being good producers, on surviving economically and providing for their families.

Our productivity allows this country to have a positive balance of trade in agriculture. But as producers, we look to farm exports more as an essential tool for siphoning off our excess production and supporting prices than a way of moving our surplus to hungry people overseas.

Do non-farmers care if we are feeding a hungry world? A CFI survey found what most U.S. consumers care about is having access to healthy, affordable food. Only 25 percent of responders believe the U.S. has a responsibility to provide food for the rest of the world.

And so, we strive for higher yields and heavier weaning weights without spending a lot of time thinking about whether the increased production will feed more hungry people. But whether we take pride in it or whether non-farmers think highly of us because of it, the fact is our agricultural productivity is feeding a hungry world. And all indications are it’s only going to get hungrier in the future.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.