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USFRA Hosts Another Food Dialogue

Panel discussion focuses on technology, sustainability and the futures of food and farming.

Jason Vance

March 8, 2012

3 Min Read

On Wednesday the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance hosted a Food Dialogue panel in Washington D.C. Bart Schott, vice president of USFRA, said the initial Food Dialogue last September was very successful, and they felt another discussion would fit right in since this is National Agriculture Week.

The theme of this Food Dialogue was The Future of Food and Farming: An Agriculture Day Dialogue. The panel included Roger Beachy, former director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture; Bryan Dierlam, director of government affairs at Cargill; Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White; Eileen Langdon, a North Carolina veterinarian; and Wyoming rancher Pat O'Toole.

One of the main questions that was discussed by the panel was: Is technology in agriculture creating environmental improvements and economic growth or perpetuating public fears?

"When a consumer has his iPhone or iPad it seems to be okay," Schott said. "But when you link that kind of technology to food it's something that can throw up red flags to consumers. A lot of time on the dialogue was spent on the definition of sustainability and where precision farming fits in."

Schott says on the production side with such innovations as variable rate seeding, variable rate fertilizing and rural command on the planter it all adds up to a really good definition of sustainability where we are producing more crops on less acres with less inputs because of the technology we have today.

Part of the Food Dialogues' mission is to connect the questions of the consumers with the producers today. Schott says that they have found that people really believe what the farmers are doing is right and precision ag is just a part of that, but there is a lack of knowledge about production agriculture today.

"We need to be able to answer these questions about where does precision ag fit in and how is it going to fit in the future," Schott said. "When we message this to consumers we've got to go right down to the basics and say it is all about using less to producer more. I think when the consumer hears that we care about our environment and we care about the nutrients that a plant uses, I think it is going to answer a lot of questions they have about production agriculture today."

Schott says a couple of issues that were discussed during the panel really stood out for him. One was how to attract young people back to the farm. According to Pat O'Toole only 8% of farmers are under the age of 35.

"He really had some thought provoking ideas," Schott said. "He talked about a link with their land-grant college about hooking up young folks with farmers and ranchers that don't have an heir to come back and I think that is a real key. Bringing a young person into your operation, I think we'll be a lot more successful that way than having young people borrow a whole bunch of money. The weight of this issue is on the older farmers and ranchers who want to transition on."

Schott was very pleased with event and felt that the panel had a good mix of people coming at the issues from a wide range of perspectives.  To view the video of the latest Food Dialogue, click HERE.

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