Dec 16, 2011
The challenge ahead

ThUnited Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report suggesting that meat consumption is expected to increase 73 percent by 2050, just 38 years away. I guess we better get busy building our cow herds; if those numbers are right, we’ve got a lot of work to do, especially when we’ve only been able to move the nation’s herd 1 to 2 percent at any given time.

To get this job done were going to need more feed, and lots of it. With the ethanol industry sharing the corn bin with livestock producers, a 13 billion bushel crop of corn just isn’t going to be big enough. Or we’re going to have to find a lot more efficiency in how to grow livestock with fewer resources.

When we compare livestock production to 50 years ago, agriculture has done a remarkable job using less water and feed to raise just about everything. But without water, it’s going to be difficult to produce the feed resources needed to meet that future demand.

The report said that as it stands, there are no technical or economically viable alternatives to intensive production for providing the bulk of the livestock food supply for growing cities. Those systems are a concern because of potential environmental impacts such as ground water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their potential to act as incubators for diseases. The challenge is to make intensive production more environmentally benign. They said that we will need 40 percent more cattle.

Then they said that currently, livestock products supply 12.9 percent of the calories consumed worldwide and 20.3 percent in developed countries.

Meat’s contribution to protein consumption is estimated at 27.9 percent worldwide and 47.8 percent in developed countries. The FAO study says the consumption of livestock protein in the Americas, Europe and Oceania in 2005 was between 78 and 98 percent of the total protein requirement, suggesting livestock products are being over consumed.

It’s always entertaining to listen to these various UN organizations and their bold comments on industry, society and climate.

Generally, people aspire to consume livestock meat products verses a grain-based diet. We are experiencing that right now as global wealth increases, and meat demand is good, especially in the Pacific Rim where the U.S. exports most of our meat products.

Where the UN is concerned, it appears that they are more interested in balancing global wealth. To say we’re going to need to nearly double our global meat production in 38 years to feed everyone, then turn around and say we can’t figure out how to do it, is a discomforting thought.

The UN held their framework convention on climate change in Durban, South Africa, last week and the Canadians announced they were done with the Kyoto protocol that deals with climate change issues. Nearly all developed countries said they wanted nothing to do with the issues outlined by the 1997 Kyoto protocol agreement.

The U.S. and China never recognized the challenge created by the UN, and Canada’s environmental minister said that if the two largest Co2 emitters, China and the U.S., wouldn’t do their part, the protocol would not be successful in reducing greenhouse emissions.

Sounds like a reasonable decision to me. The 1997 Kyoto agreement is set to expire next year and has always been viewed as a tool to equalize global economies. As a matter of fact, many say it’s the forum for Agenda 21, which deals with sustainable development, adopted by President Clinton in 1993. Al Gore is involved with the agenda, too, which should tell you everything you need to know.

Sustainable is a word we hear a lot these days and it has many meanings to different folks. For most in agriculture, it means earning a profit in order to be in business next year. And that generally means proper management of resources and efficiency. To others, the definition is about being fair, and to a larger degree, being socially responsible, which I also read as class warfare.

When it comes to producing more food for an expanding global population, agriculture has always met the challenge, as we did starting in 1950. Agriculture has always applied science to produce more with less and I would expect nothing less going forward. Politics will be the greater challenge. — PETE CROW