by Randy Krotz, CEO US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance
The surprising part of the word ‘broken’, often used to describe today’s agriculture, is that it’s being applied to the most productive, dynamic food system in the world – one that harnesses thriving technology and constantly evolving science.
I’ve seen headlines and heard major food company and food retail chief executives use this phrase while speaking on the national stage. Of course, I can only speculate what these individuals face every day in their worlds, including intense demands from activists, consumers and their own shareholders.
Activists and others also coin the food system as “broken,” yet agriculture strives to continually improve with each generation. Farmers and ranchers spend every day doing their best to enhance our land, water and soil in addition to growing nutritious food for consumers across our nation and beyond our borders.
But on National Ag Day (March 21), it’s important that we recognize U.S. farmers and ranchers for their positive contribution to our food system. We’re in an era where millennials feel disconnected from how their food is grown and raised, and many doubt the significance of production agriculture. Nearly 70 percent of boomers believe farmers and ranchers are a valuable part of the economy, compared to 55 percent of millennials, according to the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) 2016 Consumer Perception Survey.
My perspective of the food system comes from the viewpoint of today’s farms. Not only did I grow up in rural America, but I represent more than 100 agricultural organizations that make up USFRA. This point of view – from the farmers producing our food – is often lost in the conversation. At the same time, some consumers, food companies, restaurants, and retailers often feel agriculture is where the fault lies with this proclaimed “broken” food system.
For instance, take GMO crops, which have been a lightning rod for controversy. If you’re looking for their positive effects, however, you don’t need to look far. PG Economics, a UK-based organization that studies the effects of GMOs, found in 2014 if GMO crops had not been available, farmers worldwide would have needed to cultivate 45 million more acres of land to produce the same amount of corn, soybeans, cotton, and canola to maintain global production levels (some U.S. research indicates the number is even higher). That’s 11 percent of the arable land in the U.S.
As a result, farmers are actually doing more with less. Not only are they preserving land, but they’ve also reduced water use. Field to Market cites between 1980 and 2011, irrigation in the U.S. has decreased for corn by 53 percent, cotton by 75 percent, potatoes by 38 percent, rice by 53 percent, soybeans by 42 percent and wheat by 12 percent.
The improvements don’t stop at using GMO crops. Farmers and ranchers are continually taking advantage of every opportunity to improve how they farm. Strides in SMART Farm technology, improved animal welfare, reduced antibiotic use, manure management and expanded food safety practices demonstrate that daily. This is an industry that enthusiastically embraces new advances and proven practices to enhance the environment, improve animal care and increase overall profitability to sustain family farms across the country.
A pressing concern in our food system is “food deserts” – an issue that we, as a society, collectively strive to fix. I salute the local and national programs that are addressing this issue in cities and rural areas where access to fruits and vegetables can be limited. Farmers are dedicated to this goal as well. For the past 10 years, Farm Bureau’s young farmers and ranchers have worked to provide food to those in need with the Harvest for All campaign, recently donating 42 million pounds of food and $1.2 million to their local food banks.
As contributors in the food cycle, farmers and ranchers know we have improvements to make. We’re never done creating more sustainable, efficient, productive ways to grow and raise food. But while we do this, let’s recognize that our food system isn’t “broken” – in fact, it’s thriving. I’m proud to play a role in a food system often held up as a global model.
Let’s celebrate our successes, inspire new innovation and technology for all food production practices, and avoid using fear to encourage consumers to choose one diet over another. There’s room for everyone at the table, and we need to keep in mind America’s future of being a “mixed salad” of cultures, ideas, and most of all, diversity. Our flourishing food system is a powerful reflection of this diversity.
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