Agriculture's next big challenge
By George McGovern and Marshall Matz
January 4, 2009
President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Iowa's former Gov. Tom Vilsack to be his secretary of agriculture. Vilsack was an excellent choice, but some have criticized the appointment because he supports agricultural biotechnology and commercial agriculture. The critics assume that anyone who holds these views is an enemy of organic farming and sustainable agriculture. We disagree.
Norman Borlaug, a Nobel laureate and father of the Green Revolution, has concluded that the world will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the last 10,000. That is an extraordinary challenge. How does the world do it?
First, we must recognize that organic, sustainable and commercial agriculture play a part in feeding the world. There is an important role for organic agriculture and, indeed, some consumers are willing to pay a premium for foods that are certified as organic. Sustainable agriculture, defined generally as farming that adheres to practices more sensitive to the environment, is also of great importance. Commercial agriculture is still the backbone of the economy in most rural counties across the nation. And commercial agriculture is a big factor in offsetting our unfavorable balance of international trade.
We do not yet see the yields with organic agriculture that would feed a hungry planet of almost 7 billion people. During the recent presidential campaign, Obama, to his credit, often talked of supporting American agriculture, from the small sustainable farms that market to the community to the large commercial farms that feed the world. He was exactly correct. The Department of Agriculture should be supporting research into organic and sustainable agriculture. Clearly, we must be more sensitive to the relationship between agriculture and the environment. But to criticize someone for supporting all sectors of agriculture seems shortsighted. Read More
I have had to read this article a couple of times just to see what I am missing. We don’t normally see someone come out and say that the primary goal of agriculture is to feed people. It’s incredible that we need to say that, but it’s apparent that many people don’t realize this fact. The other line from this story that every consumer needs to understand is that we need to get beyond ideology and use science. We can either spend the next several decades arguing about food and then not have enough, or our society can choose to get down to business and utilize technology, science, and America’s ag producers and double our food production by 2050.