Agriculture: Trends and Issues

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THEME ARTICLE

America's agricultural education will face its biggest-ever challenge in the next 50 years: helping farmers gear up to supply nearly three times as much.

Today, the world's farmers are feeding only 6 billion people, and only about 15 percent of them are eating high-quality diets. But high technology, freer trade, and spreading democracy are driving higher incomes in emerging countries. By 2050, the world will probably have a peak population of 8.5 or 9 billion people, nearly all of them demanding high-quality diets for their kids. Even Russia and SubSaharan Africa may be able to afford high-quality diets.

Americans now have 113 million companion cats and dogs. A rich, one-child China in 2050 is likely to have 500 million companion cats and dogs.

Viewed from a global perspective, American agriculture deserves to prosper in the 211 century as it never did in the 201. America has the world's largest tracts of prime farmland. With its pioneering use of conservation tillage, integrated pest management, and biotechnology America also has the world's most sustainable farming.

Rural America must plan to have at least as many jobs in farm management, research, farm input supply and food processing in 2050 as we have currently. If the world liberalizes trade so American farm exports can help save the tropical forests in densely populated Asia, there should be even more agriculture-related U.S. jobs in 2050 than today.

Without a tripling of U.S. crop yields and a major increase in U.S. farm exports, the world will almost certainly lose a major part of its wildlands and wild species. Equally vital, researchers have found almost as many wildlife species in five square miles of tropical forest as we've discovered in the whole of the United States.

If the trend toward freer trade is extended to farm products, Europe will end its export dumping, and world market prices for farm products are likely to rise 25-50 percent. Sales to emerging Asian economies will soar. U.S. farm exports might very well double within a decade, from the current $50-60 billion per year. The extra billions in income are likely to be earned with the land, labor, and equipment already on our farms so net farm income would increase dramatically.

The current organic food fad is likely to fade. Organic officials in both the United States and Britain have recently admitted that their industry has no proof of any nutritional or safety benefits. Katherine DiMatteo of the Organic Trade Association admitted this on ABC-TV's "20/20" program on February 4, 2000. The British organic industry admitted it to a government hearing in 1999.

The Food and Drug Administration says we get less than 1 percent of the Acceptable Daily Intake of pesticide residue. Their standards take full account of children, with thousand-fold safety factors built in. …