High optimism for the agricultural industry was the key take-away message from the opening session of the NAMA 2010 Trends in Agriculture conference, October 5-6. Close to 150 members attended the Minneapolis event and heard Mark Pearson, Iowa Public Television’s Market to Market host, and Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute cite the expected doubling of the world population by 2050 as the primary reason the agriculture industry will thrive. One of agriculture’s biggest challenges, according to both speakers, is ensuring that adverse public opinion and regulation does not thwart the industry from providing food for the world.
From the standpoint of commodities, Pearson sees bullish markets for each major crop for the next couple of years including corn, soybeans, wheat and rice. “The game changer for corn is ethanol,” he says. Referencing good US oil supplies, Pearson says tax credits given to ethanol blenders may be in jeopardy during the next congressional session. While bullish grain markets benefited crop farmers in recent years, livestock growers endured high feed costs and low market prices. Pearson notes a coming change: “the current cow herd is the smallest since 1950,” he says. “With no new production, beef prices will jump dramatically.” In the hog industry high feed prices and the H1N1 health scare triggered a reduction in sow numbers and eliminated inefficient production facilities to create a more robust pork market in 2010.
In the long term, continued gains in technology add to the productivity and prosperity of the agriculture industry. “Biotechnology is how agriculture will feed the world,” Lehr says. Crop plants improved with biotechnology require fewer inputs including less land and water needed for production. Other high return technological advancements such as precision agriculture and no-till farming reduce wear and tear on machinery, use less fuel and benefit the environment by reducing erosion and improving soil tilth.
Oil and energy supplies will continue to trouble the agriculture industry and the world as populations in China, India and other countries increasingly become middle-class and energy demands grow. “Ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar power have no future in supplying significant amounts of energy,” Lehr says. “Eventually the whole world will run on nuclear power.”
Both Lehr and Pearson encouraged NAMA members to talk about agriculture and help growers share their stories about farming to counter the influence of environmental activism on public opinion and government policy. “The biggest problem for agriculture is the public does not realize we are environmental stewards,” Lehr says. “As long as the public thinks ag hurts the environment, the industry will be regulated even more.”