SMITH COLUMN: Farming in the Future

Published 11:30 am Friday, June 4, 2021

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Those with an abiding passion for farming are in a minority, but we may be nearing the time when that could change dramatically. By 2050, estimates are that the world’s population will be 9.7 billion.

That brings about this lamentable question: Can we feed the world’s population? There are countless studies which address this issue. The forecast brings about doomsaying.

Will this mean the biblical reference about war will indeed come to pass: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks?”

There will be a lot of mouths to feed, a lot of corn to grow. That brings about another issue. We’ll need a lot of water if agriculture, which now relies on sensors, drones and satellites, will be able to feed the world’s population. If the watering of crops causes the wells to run dry, then we will need to tell Houston and the world “we have a problem.”

It is already happening in China. In the last three decades, 28,000 rivers have gone dry or disappeared in the Middle Kingdom.

Agriculture has been going high tech for some time — helping farmers produce crops more economically and developing plants that are more resilient to climate change.

Recently, I ran across a magazine piece, which quoted “Knowledge @ Wharton,” the online journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in which depressing facts and figures paint a bleak picture for the world, only three decades from now.

College graduates of the last few weeks will have landed right in the middle of this era. One can only hope they have what it takes to manage the challenge.

Here are some of the sobering facts from the Wharton study:

4 One in nine of the world’s 7.3 billion people — more than 800 million men, women and children — don’t get enough to eat, despite the fact that more than enough food is produced daily to feed everyone on Earth (at least based on calories).

4 Most of the world’s hungry live in the developing regions of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and many of them are children. Inadequate nutrition kills more than three million children under age 5 every year, and is responsible for 45% of all such global deaths. Worldwide, one in six kids (a total of about 100 million) is underweight.

Could the “hot” major on campuses in the near future be the Colleges of Agriculture?

The statistic that blows you away is that the regions where people are the hungriest are also the regions responsible for the greatest population growth.

As population growth accelerates, we are seeing arable land diminish.  Water scarcity, aforementioned, will compound food production and climate change may be the biggest enemy of food production.

We have heard much about budget deficits in our lives, but if a debilitating water deficit comes about, then that will be the mother of all deficits. It is a fact that we are drainng aquifers across the world.

Yet, as we fret about Armageddon, we are remined that a lot of food is wasted. Sometimes crops rot in the fields before they reach the market place.

Where food is plentiful, there are 1.9 billion who are overweight and 600 million are obese, according to “Knowledge @ Wharton.”

Having grown up on a farm, I am sensitive to the issues of food, rainfall and drought. I can only hope for my great grandchildren that governments of the world will be judicious and that the Colleges of Agriculture will be able to make a difference.