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Focus on Agriculture

July 23, 2012

100 Million More Mouths to Feed

By Stewart Truelsen

Historic drought and record-setting heat have scorched the nation’s corn and soybean crops and destroyed livestock pastures. With that in mind, it may not be a good time to bring this up, but by the year 2050 the United States will have almost 100 million more mouths to feed.

The U.S. population, which is 314 million at present, is projected to reach 400 million or more by the middle of the century. World population growth is slowing, but the absolute number of people continues to increase by about 1 billion every 13 years.

America’s food supply is unmatched by any in the world, but it is vulnerable to weather disasters, plant diseases and insect pests. And as the population grows, and there are many more mouths to feed, the stakes become greater.

Heaven forbid if the extreme weather of 2012 with monster tornadoes, heat waves and drought becomes the “new normal.” There are enough worries in the world without that one.

American agriculture is fully capable of meeting the nation’s expanding food needs, and assisting the rest of the world, but the drought is a reminder not to take food for granted or become complacent about the future of the nation’s agriculture.

Every time there is a serious drought the financial pressures on farmers and ranchers rise tremendously. Droughts in the 1950s and 1980s forced a number of producers to go out of business. There may have been a little slack in the system back then, but not today. With 100 million more mouths to feed in the decades ahead, we can’t afford to lose the people who grow our food.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has been advocating a farm policy that protects and strengthens risk management programs for all farmers, provisions contained in the new farm bill now before Congress. Current programs expire at the end of September.

The farm bill won’t bring rain, but it ensures a more solid, stable and predictable agricultural economy, now and in the future.

The prospect of another 100 million Americans by 2050 seems daunting now in many respects, but it means opportunity as well. We’ll need small farms, large farms and even urban farms to meet not only the needs but the wants of the American public. We’ll also need the continuing advancements brought about by agricultural research.

The entrepreneurial spirit that seems more alive than ever in farmers and ranchers today bodes well for the future. A revitalization of America’s Heartland, its rural communities, is not only a possibility but perhaps a necessity.

Studies have shown that young and beginning farmers, many of whom are women, are the agriculturalists who will take the lead in meeting future demands for food, fiber and fuel. Fortunately, they enjoy living the lifestyle of agriculture and are eager to promote and advance it.

Stewart Truelsen is a regular contributor to the Focus on Agriculture column.