Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wonderful Times in Agriculture

Submitted by Barry Nelson, John Deere

We are experiencing wonderful times in agriculture. Net farm income is at record highs, farm equity is strong, and farm debt is the lowest in recent history. Even with a record drought this past summer and the variability in some commodity prices, the ag economy has been a true American success story and a solid base for the rest of the economy, which is still barely tripping along.

Yet, we still have some significant challenges ahead. As the population continues to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by the year 2045, farmers and ranchers are challenged with producing more food, feed, fiber, and fuel for this growing population. Also, there is a growing middle class around the world, particularly in India, China, and eastern Asia, that is demanding higher quality goods—particularly animal protein.

The U.S. producer must meet these challenges with about the same amount of land, the same or less water resources, and increased regulations from governments around the world that impede trade and efficient agricultural production methods.

Are U.S. producers up to the challenge? Let’s take a look at the past 30 years. According to the Field to Market Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, many commodity crops are being grown more sustainably than 30 years ago. Here are some broad examples for corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice, and potatoes from their study:
  • Soil erosion per unit of production has decreased anywhere from 47% to 67%.
  • Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production have decreased between 15% and more than 42% for all crops.
  • Improvements in efficiency were driven, at least in part, by improvements in yield for all crops, ranging from 25% to 64%.
This comprehensive study looks at each crop specifically, and there have been tremendous gains with innovative farming techniques to bring increased sustainability to U.S. agriculture. Farmers have always been great stewards of their land, and nearly 95% of all farms are family-owned. There is tremendous pride in how the U.S. producer manages his or her farm, and, with new precision technology, sustainability will improve even further.

I've been with John Deere for 33 years, and I’ve seen all the changes in agriculture, particularly on the equipment side of the business. But new precision farming technology is revolutionizing the overall productivity of most farm operations.

Satellite technology allows equipment to steer itself … to be more accurate with every pass in the field … to be more comfortable to operate … and to allow more precise placement of inputs. Tractors, sprayers, combines, and other self-propelled machines are wired with more computers and sensors than a space shuttle! Farmers are managing and using both machinery data and agronomic data to bring even more efficiency for every acre farmed in the U.S.

These are exciting times, and yet, production agriculture is under attack. Some environmentalists, animal rights activists, food critics, and others are attempting to sway an uninformed urban public into believing the current food production methods are unsafe and produce unhealthy food. They are trying to increase regulations to impede farmers and, in some cases, actually control what people can and cannot eat. 

It’s important that all of us in agriculture come together with a unified voice. We must articulate the importance of our modern farming practices and educate the public on how new technology has allowed for more sustainable operations. These efficient producers are using precision farming technology to reduce inputs, increase yields and meat production, and provide the necessary food, feed, fiber, and fuel for the growing world population. 

This is what Ag Day is all about! On March 18-19, we invite everyone to Washington, D.C., to help celebrate agriculture and to recognize the great work done by U.S. producers who feed the world. 

We have scheduled the most comprehensive program in our history. It will feature leading ag economists, the Smithsonian Institute and their American Enterprise exhibition spotlighting agriculture, special receptions and dinners with ag leaders and governmental officials, and Hill visits with FFA, NAMA, 4-H, and AFA students. 

This will be our opportunity to put a spotlight on the agricultural challenges facing U.S. producers and the importance of gaining even more support from Washington policy leaders. 

Even more importantly, there are 925 million hungry people throughout the world. More than 16,000 children die each day from hunger-related conditions. In 2008, nearly 9 million children died before their 5th birthday. One-third of these deaths were related to hunger and malnutrition.

Sadly, we are producing enough food to feed these children, but there are other issues to deal with, including poor food distribution systems, inept governments, food waste, and infrastructure in some areas that inhibit modern farming practices. This is our true challenge in the U.S., and production agriculture can be an influential partner in helping to provide practical solutions for feeding a hungry world in the future.