A few of the mantras we hear within our industry, or "talking points" as we like to call them, often raise red flags in our viewpoints. Put another way, they don't hold water.
These are a three common ones:
- We must use our current methods of production to "feed the world."
- Farmers and ranchers are stewards of the environment.
- We have the safest, healthiest food in the world.
Although we think the second statement is a goal and passion producers do have, they have been led down a road which has allowed just the opposite. In his work, Eric sees the effects every day with our water resources used for human consumption, and the trend is getting worse.
We would like to put fourth some numbers that might make us question the above statements and help get us on a path to truly regenerative and sustainable techniques. A United Nations report says 70% of food production worldwide comes from small farms and gardens ranging in size from 1-120 acres.
So-called “industrial agriculture,” both family owned and corporate created, produces 30% of the world's foodstuffs, and most of this is not for direct consumption but as grain used for livestock feed and other products. Further, one-third of the food produced in the world is wasted in some form. We currently produce enough food to feed a projected 2050 population of 9 billion people. Huge amounts of food are either thrown away or never reach their intended use via corrupt governments or other problems.
As far as our claim to be "stewards of the environment," agriculture uses 80-90% of the United States consumptive water annually. Each year US cropping erodes an average of 4.5 tons of soil per acre of cropland. We erode more in soil than we grow in crops annually. With this comes the added need for more fertilizers and additives to help offset this loss of fertility. On average, each acre of corn receives 302 pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur, plus 1-2 pounds of herbicides per acre per year.
While it might be harder to quantify, our health is another factor that seems to be declining along with our soil and water. The amount of diet factors Leanne sees in her healthcare practice has risen considerably in the last five to 10 years. In fact we would argue much of our food is eroding our health because so much is processed and full of byproducts from corn and soybeans.
In fact there is evidence that processed grain products grown on depleted soils have driven us into a healthcare crisis, in part because the nutritional level has declined so much. We are literally starving while eating large portions and feeding the world.
Nearly 60% of Americans take at least one prescription drug. We spend $3.5 trillion a year on medical costs yet are not healthy as a population. Some 160 million American are obese or overweight.
Could part of that be because our soils are now sterile from what some people call "modern" farming practices? Could it be because the focus is on producing calorically-rich grains that lack the nutrients essential to health for our bodies? If we embarked upon the path of regenerative agriculture and rebuilt our soils, and if we were then feeding our population wholesome, nutritious foods, we believe the statistics for health care costs might possibly be considerably lower.
Farmers and ranchers have a huge role and responsibility going forward for our soil, water and our health. There is so much opportunity to solve these problems while being profitable. What an exciting time to be in this business.
Read more on this topic at these links:
Food waste 1/3 of total -- http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/
Irrigation water usage -- https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/irrigation-water-use/
Food production from small farms -- https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/future-of-food/photos-farms-agriculture-national-farmers-day/#close
Soil loss rates -- https://www.esf.edu/for/briggs/FOR345/erosion.htm
60% of American take prescription drugs -- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/11/03/more-americans-than-ever-are-taking-prescription-drugs/