It seems that every generation of farmers is faced with a challenge that ultimately becomes their responsibility for the well-being of agriculture.
Speaking specifically to animal agriculture, my generation figured out how to successfully house animals in confinement through science and practice (some good and some bad) and how to create an atmosphere inside the housing conducive to rapid and efficient growth. The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from about 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion by 2050. A United Nations released a report in 2019 suggesting the world’s population could reach its peak around the end of the century, to a level of nearly 11 billion.
A lot of variables could stand in the way of reaching those number on that timeline. But the likelihood of human exposure to these confinement operations will increase in the years to come. Part of the challenge for the next generation in agriculture may be to truly dial in how to be good neighbors from an environmental standpoint. The challenge may include building and maintaining relationships between neighbors and consumers while fully utilizing energy that has otherwise been going to waste.
Just like Abraham Lincoln didn’t “just” become president and NASCAR didn’t start out driving 200 mph, we surely have not yet perfected the capture and utilization of methane on our farms and not fully found the final answer on how to be a good neighbor. A great deal of time and money has been invested in science and practices — some good and some bad — but we aren’t quite there yet, are we?
The next generation is also going to have to be much more engaged in conversation with neighbors/consumers than my generation — or my parents’ generation — ever was, because the majority of those 2 billion people I mentioned before aren’t going to come from farms and ranches. Even those who do reside in rural areas are not necessarily informed or comfortable with “modern” agriculture. They do not know that billions of dollars have been invested to improve the efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
When the owner of a livestock facility invests thousands of dollars to improve efficiency of the buildings or spends thousands of dollars to use hog waste as fertilizer, or their nutrition company spends millions on research to increase feed efficiency, nobody cares. But when someone tries to recreate a 1950′s-era farm by pasturing their hogs along the creek or cultivating their fields repeatedly so they can earn and maintain an organic production status, they are praised as sustainable farmers.
If the next generation of agriculturalists is truly concerned about the environment and animal welfare, they will not only accept but celebrate advances made in agriculture.
Painless dentistry. Knee replacements. Smartphones. Car engines. Almost every aspect of life has been improved by technology — yet agriculture is supposed to remain unchanged. That is not sustainable.