There is a lot of rhetoric on all sides of the food issue.

What I have found, learning from people who are seriously digging into the issue of our time, is that they have a concerted desire to grow more food, including livestock, and to do it in a healthier fashion. The solutions will be diverse and many of them can be, and are being solved, by individual farmers and ranchers who are looking at these issues intellectually.

Farmers and ranchers who are leading in this arena are also realizing their role in becoming more environmentally sound, while raising more plants and animals to meet the nutritional needs of the local and global populace, all while being profitable. It has never been more important to view everyone in this discussion as partners, not adversaries. There is much to learn from research that broadens our observations and deepens our understanding when making decisions on each of our farm and ranch businesses.

“Can we feed 10 billion people without destroying the planet?” This is the question the World Resource Institute (WRI) report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future seeks to answer. The report was produced by WRI in partnership with the World Bank, United Nations (UN) Environment, UN Development Programme, and the French agricultural research agencies CIRAD and INRA. Tim Searchinger is the lead author of the report.

“I have been working on this for 20 years,” said Searchinger from his office in Washington D.C. “I grew up in New York City and got interested in agriculture when I was about 30. I have seen a lot of farms and ranches since then in the U.S., Rwanda, Columbia and Vietnam. I would be a totally incompetent farmer but am a big admirer of farmers.”

Searchinger said he began to realize the vital importance of understanding the interaction of agriculture and the environment, “Farmers have received strong economic incentives to produce more food, but they have not been given many incentives to do better.”

“Another thing that is important is the sheer magnitude of the additional food that is going to be required globally,” he went on. “We are talking about a 70 percent increase in meat and dairy products alone. The question is how we can come up with innovative methods that reduce emissions. There are also questions such as how do we increase meat production while not removing more forests.”

Searchinger noted that farmers in the U.S. have advanced in many ways compared to the rest of the world and produce a lot of food per acre. Still, he pointed out, that agriculture is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and the industry needs to continually look at ways to use natural resources more efficiently.

“Improved grazing is a big part of the global situation and it provides a few major benefits with more output per acre and a lot of ecosystem benefits,” he said. “You can also get some soil carbon from improved grazing too.”

Right now, the WRI report states, “Cows and other ruminants use two-thirds of global agricultural land and contribute roughly half of all emissions from agriculture and land-use change, yet even in the United States, beef provides only three percent of the calories.”

Searchinger also noted that six billion people still eat less than half the U.S. consumption of beef worldwide and he asked, “What happens if all these people eat like Americans?”

The WRI report recommends 1.5 servings of beef and lamb per person, per week maximum. This is 40 percent below current consumption levels in the Americas, Europe and the former Soviet Union. Reduction of food waste is also a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to global food security.

When it comes to the beef serving recommendations in the report, Searchinger stressed this, “Even though we recommend consuming less beef per person in the U.S., beef consumption globally will rise and we support continued expansion in production in the U.S. to meet that supply.”

“When it comes to solutions, U.S. agriculture should be leading the way in innovations,” Searchinger said in closing. “It’s about making how we do things now, even better.”

Find a copy of the full downloadable report here:

A version of this story also ran in the November 7 edition of the Western Ag Reporter.

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