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Feeding a more populous world

To meet the food and fiber needs of a world population projected to double just 20 years from now will require a more productive agriculture and an increased utilization of technology, says Russ Green.

“By 2030, we’ll have to feed twice as many people as today,” the president of Claas of America, Inc., said during a recent Mid-South visit. “We’ve broken about all the land we can — which means we’ll have to do better with what we have, using technology and science to produce more on available land.”

Will that mean, Green asks, that an acre of corn yielding 170 bushels today will need to produce twice that much 20 years from now, that a beef cow will need to gain four pounds per day, or that the cycle of production for broiler chickens will need to be reduced from four to six months to less than three months?

“Agriculture has already achieved significant increases in productivity and efficiency,” Green said at the Greenwood, Miss., Exchange Club, during a visit to Thompson Machinery, a local Claas dealer. “Much of this has been due to advances in biotechnology, stacked trait seeds, more efficient machinery, and use of GPS and other electronics that allow farmers to do more with less energy and labor.”

Continuing advances in genetics, machinery, and electronics will be key to achieving the needed increases in U.S. food and fiber output, Green says. “We’re going to see more innovative products that incorporate a lot of technology.

“In the last eight years, agriculture has evolved from a food and fiber industry to one that also includes energy, with millions of gallons of ethanol produced from corn.

“This one development alone has added a consistent $1.50 per bushel to corn prices. Soybeans have become increasingly valuable as important new uses for protein and oil are being developed.”

North America, with its productive land and favorable climate is “the largest agricultural opportunity on the planet,” says Green, who began his career as a school teacher before moving into the farm equipment industry and working with some of the top companies before joining Claas, a $4 billion company that is the world’s fourth largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery, with headquarters in Germany and North America operations based in Omaha, Neb.

Despite its accomplishments in productivity and providing Americans with the cheapest, most abundant food in the world, Green says agriculture continues to face threats from activist groups. Among the most vocal are animal rights organizations, which are conducting targeted campaigns against poultry/meat production in a number of states.

One of the most visible, Green says, has been a referendum in California on poultry production and processing.

“With the way things are going in that state, it’s possible that within eight years there won’t be a beak, bill, or feathers left because of increasingly oppressive regulations.”

And, he says, availability of water for dairies is increasingly a limitation in that state, with “operations already relocating to New Mexico, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, and elsewhere.”

The Humane Society of America has been particularly aggressive with an anti-farm agenda using targeted campaigns in a number of states to enact laws or regulations, Green says.

“When you see the Humane Society ads on late night TV that foster an image as a kindly organization concerned about spaying and neutering of cats and dogs and running animal rescue and adoption shelters, what most contributors are unaware of is that only about 1.5 percent of their funds go to those purposes — the other 98 percent-plus goes for advertising to raise more money and on campaigns to try and get laws passed or regulations enacted.”

Michigan “caved in” rather than fight,” Green says, and other states, including Missouri and Nebraska, have been targeted. “In Nebraska, where we’re located, there are four cows for every citizen of the state. It’s a very important industry, but it’s hard for states to fight the targeted campaigns of these animal rights organizations.

“There is a distinction between animal rights and animal welfare,” Green says, “and as agriculture business people, we’ve got to take a stand and seek a balance.

“It’s important that we do all we can to guard this nation’s food abundance and water abundance and that we commit to using these resources as efficiently as possible. For so long, we’ve thought of water as a limitless resource — but we’ve seen streams and rivers dry up, and we need to place even more emphasis on conservation and finding ways to produce more with less water.”

Sustainability has become “an overused word,” Green says. “City folks really don’t get what agriculture does for them. Farmers are pioneers in sustainability. Agriculture is a vital industry that is taken for granted. We in America celebrate agriculture three times a day when we sit down to eat.

“The 2 percent of us with close ties to the land need to do even more to explain to the other 98 percent the importance of what we do.”

Green, who says agriculture needs to support programs to help develop agricultural leaders of tomorrow, says Future Farmers of America is “a passion for me,” and he is working to raise $4 million for the organization.

“Anything we can do to develop leaders of tomorrow is a worthwhile undertaking. America’s agricultural communities have produced many leaders, and we need to continue encouraging our young men and women so they can assume leadership roles in the future.

“There are a lot of ‘legs’ under agriculture today, and with all the innovations that are occurring and the demand that will come with a doubling of world population, agriculture will continue to be a strong part of our economy. With more than 300 occupations in agriculture, there will be a lot of opportunity for today’s FFA youngsters to become leaders of tomorrow.”

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