Movie aficionados will remember the scene from “The Graduate” where the main character, Benjamin Braddock, is at a lavish party thrown by his parents, receiving career advice from the wellheeled guests. A man takes him aside and says there is just one word to consider: plastics.
Things have changed since the movie was released in 1967. Today, the best career advice might be summed up in one word: agriculture.
“Agriculture is the plastics of the modern era,” former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman told those attending a Future of Food Summit last June in Washington, D.C.
Glickman and others referenced the challenge ahead of feeding a burgeoning world population.
The challenge is to increase food production by 70 percent over the next 40 years. Many knowledgeable people, like Glickman, believe the challenge can be met.
According to Glickman, the world population will increase from about 7 billion now to 9.3 to 9.5 billion by the year 2050. This will require a lot more food — 70 percent more, by many accounts, since higher living standards will increase demand by a higher percentage than just the population growth alone.
For years, Glickman pointed out, U.S. food policy centered on surpluses and what do to with them. Now, the surpluses have dwindled and food supplies are much tighter. “We are no longer in a period of massive surpluses like we have been,” Glickman said.
It will open up new challenges and opportunities.
Chris Policinski, president of Land O’Lakes and another speaker at the Food Summit, agreed with Glickman’s assessment of the situation, saying that agriculture will probably be the “greatest growth industry of our era.”
How does agriculture feed all of the people without ripping up the soil and tearing down the forests in a huge land grab? Glickman asked.
For years, agriculture has been able to improve productive capacity — and that will need to continue.
Since 1960, the average U.S. farm has increased productivity by six-fold, says Samuel Allen, chairman of Deere & Co., the farm implement company. It’s all about getting more production out of each acre of land.
Many examples are unfolding around the world.
In Brazil, where rainforests have been cut down to create more pasture land, farmers are keeping the soil in production — despite the fact the soil is very acidic and can degrade — by treating it with limestone and phosphorus. This has helped relieve pressure on the rainforests. The rate of deforestation in the Amazon region has dropped significantly — from 27,423 square kilometers in 2004 to 6,450 square kilometers in 2010.