Farm Progress

We get off track in our own operations when we think much about global food supply.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke, Blogger

April 17, 2018

4 Min Read
The foundation of survival on the farm is profit, not a call to feed the world or produce more food, the author says.Lynn_Bystrom-iStock-Thinkstock

I have mentioned previously that I take my small role in agriculture seriously. I am focused on annual profitability and enjoyment, but you are mistaken if you think that we are just playing around.

I have driven close to 800,000 miles and worked under flashlights and headlights when normal people were sleeping. Hopefully, I aided other animal producers to markets and eventually people for close to 40 years.

Back in the early 1970s I read books that proved we were running out of food and there would be mass starvation in five years. These were educated agriculturalists. I was young and stupid. They were wrong. Now I am old and still not very smart, but I continue to hear the cry for production agriculture to "feed the world." It's past time for the tales and the fluff to cease.

I realize that approximately one-third of the people in the world will bed down hungry tonight and that close to 12,000 (mostly children) died today from starvation. I hate the very thought, but the truth is that starvation in the world has absolutely nothing to do with a shortage of food production. Figures indicate that those of us in production agriculture grew and harvested enough food last year to feed a world population twice the current level. Almost 50% of all food is thrown out or spoils. This includes beef.

There are a bunch of folks who need to get their stories straight. Truth is that many of these people are making big bucks with nonprofit organizations and a few global co-operations that continue to publish a message of food shortage. Some go so far as to say that they are supporting rural farming in underdeveloped countries. Truth is, they do not even support rural America.

Let's look at some facts:

  • The US is presently producing food at a cost of 12 to 15 fossil fuel calories for every consumable food calorie.

  • The US claims to be the very best and most efficient in the world, but our agriculture demands lower-cost labor than any other segment of our economy.

  • A high percentage of our production lacks nutrient density. Nutrient-dense food is difficult to access nationwide. This is related to the fact we presently have the highest medical and drug cost in the history of the world.

  • Ranchers and farmers in most of the world have nothing good to say about our agricultural system that routinely loads their markets at below their cost of production. We are not making many friends abroad.

  • America does not have an endless supply of soil, cheap fuel, equipment or labor.

  • We need to wake up and realize that we are being sold a false bill of goods. Our society is just that, our society. Every person, family, community, region and state is unique. The same is true of the rest of the world.

  • We can feed the world one person, family, community and region at a time. Remember, the world desires to feed the itself. It needs to be a local affair.

It is past time for us to stop being led down the path of "saving the world" and "feeding the world." We will learn more (and I have learned much more) and start making positive improvements on our ranches, farms and our country when we study and learn what some of the world knows about improving the soil-plant-animal complex to improve on-farm profit and more.

The tail has been wagging the dog for too long. The cost has been the death of much of rural America. The propaganda has been spread throughout the world. The USDA and land-grant universities have been touted as the answer. Remember that ghettos and government housing projects were going to save the "less fortunate" a couple of generations back. Truth is that they made lots of contractors and outsiders rich at a high cost to those less fortunate.

I have a high esteem for people who volunteer their time, energy and resources to others both locally and abroad. But truth is we need to proceed with real caution! Promoters are often working to pick our pockets and they know their game.

The "big boys" and the "educated and enlightened" are teaching a doctrine and role of modern agriculture as feeding the world. That it is mostly foolish. Our mission trips likely need to stay close to headquarters and our learning trips will likely require some distant travel.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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