Locally Grown Won’t Cut It

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There is a growing misconception among consumers today that when it comes to agriculture, big is bad. For many, locally grown food on small farms is the mantra of the day.

Everyone is certainly welcome to buy their food from the source of their choice or to grow it themselves. Gardening is a noble, worthwhile and highly commendable hobby and provides an excellent source of wholesome and nutritious food.

Returning to the days of everyone farming an acre or two and raising a few chickens, however, is not the way of the future.

For one thing, Americans are more removed than ever from the farm, with three or more generations having elapsed since the average family has resided on or earned a living from the farm. Getting people “back on the farm”, or even interested in raising their own food, would be a seemingly impossible task.

In addition, farming these days, even on a small scale, requires deep pockets. To survive wild market fluctuations and huge price swings that have been a farmer’s constant companion for the last couple years a small operation will have difficulty staying afloat.

The growing number of people to feed is another factor. With increasing demand for food from a world population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, we’ll need much more food, not less. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations the population growth will result in a “need to increase global agricultural production 70 percent,” from current levels.

FAO estimates that global net investments to agriculture must top $83 billion per year – up roughly 50 percent from current levels – to meet future demand. Does this sound within the capability of smaller, local operations to come up with this type of investment? Doubtful.

Sustainability will be a key for agriculture to continue increasing output. One look at today’s headlines makes us realize that to achieve the goal of sustainable agriculture many significant challenges will need to be met. It will require nothing less than the best ingenuity, innovation and technology that agriculture can muster.

According to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, or SARE, there are three broad goals, or pillars, necessary to achieve sustainable agriculture. They are long-term profitability, stewardship of land, air and water, and quality of life for farmers, ranchers and communities.

Let’s look at the first goal-- the profit pillar. Certainly, no one can stay in business long-term without securing a profit. SARE could spread the word about this pillar among the growing segment of the population that looks with disdain on what they term “industrial” or “factory” farming. Large-scale operations are generally necessary these days to attain “long-term” profitability.

Over the last 30 months or so, livestock producers have lost money faster than they could balance their books. Pork producers have lost an average of $20 to $25 per market hog during much of that time period. How many small farmers would be able to survive those economics?

Everyone has different tastes and interests when it comes to food. Those who seek smaller food producers and local output are welcome to enjoy it. The critics of modern agriculture however, must realize that their wishes are not consistent with an abundant, safe and affordable food supply.

Locally-grown food is fine for a few but the world is on a fast growth track. Agriculture must serve many or we will all need to expect much higher food bills and increasing world hunger.

Source: Rick Jordahl, Pork Magazine



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