Modern agriculture prides itself on the fact that it “feeds the world.” That’s no easy task considering world population surpassed 7 billion people in 2012.
The problem, however, is that scientists and industry observers warn that the way we grow food today is not sustainable. We rely too heavily on fossil fuels, artificial fertilizers and put enormous pressures on land, water and soil resources.
Another huge problem is waste. In the United States, for example, the USDA estimates that more than 30 percent of all food is never consumed. It’s simply thrown in the trash!
The answer is sustainable agriculture. The good news is that switching over to eco-friendly and renewable food production may result in the creation of vast wealth in the form of millions of new jobs and technology.
That’s according to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, an international think tank that explores innovative ways to create smarter business models.
In a recent report, the BSDC estimated that $2.3 trillion (that’s trillion with a “T”) in new business opportunities could be created and 80 million new jobs would result from an all-out effort to radically change the way we grow food.
Better yet, all these benefits could be realized by year 2030, less than two decades from now.
Getting started would be expensive, but from great investment would come even greater profits, the BSDC says. They recommend an expenditure of about $320 billion a year.
The methods to get it done are many, from no-till cultivation methods and reducing food waste, to developing new forms of fuel to power farm equipment.
it’s more than a matter of money. however. If we don’t change the way we grow food, a planetary food crisis may result in just a few decades.
According to an article on New Scientist, people may soon be growing vegetables without soil, pesticides, fresh water, soil and fossil fuels on a commercial basis. Sundrop Farms has opened the first commercial growing facility to accomplish this feat in Australia’s dessert. The farm, which has been over six years in the planning, hopes to grow 17,000 tons of tomatoes annually. The tomatoes are currently on shelves throughout Australia.
The first step in accomplishing the feat of growing tomatoes in the dessert comes from piping water from the nearby Spencer Gulf to the facility. A 127 meter high tower that sits over the farm containing 23,000 mirrors provides the power to desalinate the water which is then piped onto the 180,000 tomato plants located in a greenhouse that was built over a five-year period of 20,000 glass panels.
During the warm summer months, the greenhouse is lined with seawater soaked cardboard to maintain temperatures within the greenhouse. During the winter, solar energy is used to maintain the right growing temperatures.
Salt water is also used to control conditions within the facility so that insects do not survive. The seawater also sterilizes the air on the 20 hectare farm. Instead of soil, the plants are grown in coconut husks.
The farm is very labor intensive. Therefore, the farm employs 175 workers. If any weeds grow among the plants, then they are pulled out by hand. All harvesting is also done by hand. Currently, the facility is sending eight large trucks to market each day.
This first of its kind facility was funded mostly by a private investment firm who believes that this example can help solve food shortages around the world. The Australian government also contributed a $5 million dollar grant.
While Sundrop Farms hopes that their facility is a success, there are some who do not think this project is necessary. They point out that there are many places in Australia where tomatoes grow very well using traditional farming techniques.
If you love to eat peaches brought at local farmer’s markets, then you already know that they often have more fuzz than those brought at major retailers. The reason is that before peaches are shipped to major retailers, a wet knife is used to remove most of the fuzz. The equipment needed to do this is very expensive so it is normally not done to peaches sold at farmer’s markets, according to a Huffington Post.
If you are repulsed by the fuzz on peaches, then you might consider eating a nectarine instead. The difference between a nectarine and a peach is just one gene. That gene is the one that produces the fuzz. It is a recessive gene.
While no one knows for sure rather the nectarine or the peach came first, prominent pomologists suggests that it was the nectarine. They believe that peaches were created by crossing almonds and nectarines.
Growing peaches is big business in some areas of the United States. Over 60 percent of the commercially available peaches are grown by farmers in California. About 15 percent comes from South Carolina with the remaining peaches coming from Georgia.
A variety of commercial peaches are grown by California farmers. Consumers who want to buy the best ones will buy the ones that have just ripened before being shipped to your local grocer. The earliest of these is the July Flame which growers try to start picking in the San Joaquin Valley by the end of June. This peach has a red skin and deep orange flesh. The next peach to ripen is the white fleshed Nectar peach which starts to be available in mid-July. The last commercially available peach to ripen is the Elegant Lady.
In order to give shoppers peaches throughout the year, many peaches are commercially processed. About 85 percent of them are canned with another 15 percent being frozen.
Peaches brought in the grocery store are usually grown in the United States. It is cost prohibitive to ship them in from other locations. Many people, however, believe that the very best peaches are found in a valley in China.
Could the United States be facing an economic crisis in the agricultural industry similar to the farmers’ debt crisis in the 1980s? There is the possibility that it may happen when we observe the events that occurred during those times. Farmers were consumed in debt which caused them to lose their land, equipment and homes. It affected global economies because of incurred loan debts and decreased assets value. The same thing happened in the mortgage industry beginning in 2007, which resulted in homeowners and entrepreneurs losing their assets.
In the 1980s, farmers relied on bank loans to purchase new equipment and inevitably increased prices for their farm products, such as chickens and turkeys. The profitability margin increased for many farmers, but only lasted for a little while. The agricultural debt in the U.S. increased to more than $350 billion by the end of 1981. Farmers were heavily in loan debt with low value of assets. According to The Huffington Post, over 60,000 farmers lost their farm and homes between 1981 through 1986.
It appears that farmers who raise poultry, including chickens and turkeys are subjected to loan debt compared to large chicken factories. Companies, such as Perdue and Tyson contract with farmers to produce the products. The poultry farmers obtain loans and put their whole possessions up for collateral without knowledge of the outcome. Just because the interest rates are low during the time of the loan, the Federal Reserve can interest rates at any time.
But, what happens when farmers have to refinance at a higher interest rate? It causes financial stress, risk, and burden on the farmer and his or her family. To start a chicken farm business, the entrepreneur needs approximately $1 million or more in capital. That’s an enormous debt for farmers considering one chicken is sold at approximately five cents per pound. So, who’s really bringing in high revenue, the chicken companies and manufacturers.
Farmers incur mostly financial debt and risk, rather than profits when they use their assets as collateral to receive loans from banking institutions. The banks are protected by federal government agencies, including Farm Service and Small Business. Who is protecting the farmers when they are encouraged to get loans and eventually default? Maybe the government can do something to start protecting the farmers who do all the hard work to raise chickens and turkeys.
In order to feed the growing population of the world without using larger stretches of farmland, it may be ideal for more people to become vegetarian.
It’s also important to note that unless you grow your food yourself and can be sure that it doesn’t contain pesticides or toxins, there will likely be some harmful chemicals in the food, even if it’s considered “healthy.”
According to research published recently in the Elementa journal, some diets are more ideal than others in terms of the land that is required to produce the food for the diet. Diets that are based on vegetables and fruits are less dependent on the land and can feed more people per square inch. However, Tufts University associate professor Christian Peters, who was the lead author for the study in Elementa, says that the vegetarian diet has this advantage only to a certain extent.
Ten land requirements were incorporated into the study, ranging from the average American diet that is filled with meat, to a diet that is completely meat free. The study proved that vegetarian diets that included milk and eggs had a greater potential to feed more people than a completely vegan diet.
USDA food availability data also states that the U.S. currently has the potential to feed a population that is 1.3 times larger than the country’s current population. Tufts researchers assert that eating less meat will increase the country’s ability to feed more people.
A recent study conducted by anthropologists at the University of Utah has come to discover a link between ancient population boom and the first development of North American agriculture 5000 years ago. Should the findings of the study hold water, then it may be implied that the earliest human ancestors on the eastern North American continent might have been compelled to cultivate plants for the very first time on the because of an overabundance of people in relation to available resources.
A map chartered by the Utah anthropologists indicates that various kinds of wild foods became scarce after an upsurge in the population, prompting the very first organized domestication of produce such as sunflower and squash. The areas in which plants were systematically domesticated for sustenance were indicated with radiocarbon-dating artifacts used to spotlight human settlement, and these areas largely composed a sizable portion of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast.
To date, anthropologists have managed to identify several events of prominent plant domestication in the formative years of human history, the earliest of which being traced back to 11,500 years ago in the Middle East. The North American plant domestication event would be the 9th of these 11 periods of agricultural innovation. Researchers have drawn a relationship between the societal changes caused by food domestication and the first traces of “statehood” with formalized communities.
Though accurate estimations of ancient population quantities remain relatively challenging to deduce with accuracy, radiocarbon dated charcoal, animal bones, and various other elements gave the University of Utah anthropologists just enough to connect the dots across several century-long segments.
In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change earlier this year, researchers reported their projections that crop yields could decrease in a decade without additional research into creating the most innovating varieties possible to keep up with an increasingly warm and dry planet.
Many of us think of the past few decades as being filled with conflict over oil, but what looks like is happening is that more and more people are having to live off of food that is increasingly insecure. That means that policymakers planning agricultural policy as well as individual farmers feeling pressured to cultivate larger and larger yields all the time aren’t sure where the next yield will come from, or if the land which that yield came from can support another cycle.
This is a problem that is largely being felt by people in the developing world, which means that the story may not get much airplay here in the United States. However, if we don’t deal with this issue, and continue to not deal with larger issues related to climate change, the area that is suitable for growing food will continue to shrink. Water will continue to become lower-quality, and more scarce, meaning agriculture will have to fight with the average consumer over who can get limited water available to them both. Eventually, we’ll feel the pinch and it’ll turn into a painful punch quickly from there.
For our future interests and for our fellow human beings now, let’s invest in agriculture.