Monday, February 14, 2011

More on the Possibility of Global Agricultural Productivity Increases

There is only one thing I'm sure of concerning the future of agriculture and that's what the prevailing public opinion is on the subject. "Everybody" thinks that we are soon to run out of food and that very high food prices are here to stay. They also believe that more and more "land for farming disappears each year and no one's making new farmland." Or so it seems.

Some of these commonly accepted beliefs stem from listening to the long-standing spokespersons Lester Brown and Jim Rogers who have garnered the media's spotlight for decades. Though one is an investor and one is an environmentalist, they have both been saying the same thing for many years. They might be right.

Last week I made a special post linking a new Ebook, “The Shifting Patterns of Agricultural Production and Productivity Worldwide." It just so happens that one of the authors, Dr. Bruce Babcock, was interviewed recently by "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" on a show titled "Global Food Price Spikes." (h/t Dennis) I listened to the 45-minute podcast and you may listen to it here.

Dr. Babcock was asked what the answer to the world's growing appetite for food is.

Dr. Bruce Babcock: The answer is productivity increases. The big seed companies in the U.S. have promised us that we are going to go back to a time of surplus crops.

Q: Tom Ashbrook: Can we do that? We all know about the green revolution back in the 70's. If the population of the planet is headed to 9 billion, do we have the capacity to gear up agriculture in a way that's not environmentally destructive to satisfy that kind of demand, Bruce?

A: Dr. Babcock: I think we do. It's a matter of getting the policy right. It's a matter of investment in research technology and its a matter of countries adopting policies that facilitate the increases in productivity in their own countries and while we do the same in our country.

Those statements are coming from one of the experts who has studied trends in global agricultural production. And they are consistent with these recent posts that I have written:
I feel that the global land acquisitions movement could help make this happen as it is combining money with farmland. That combination could have the potential to greatly increase production over time. Between the investors, the countries selling the land, and the food-insecure sovereign nations involved, there is a strong motivation to do what is necessary to increase production. The model is well-established. Large swaths of Australia, Latin America and the Russian regions are already owned and operated by corporations. Some of these operations make the U.S. industrial farms look small.

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Brazil ~ source: china daily agencies
No small part of food security and increasing productive farm acres in new regions involves expensive infrastructure investment. Many of the agriculturally productive regions are far from waterways or seaports so grain must be transported many hundreds of miles by truck or rail. This condition exists in Mato Grasso and other parts of Brazil and many grain growing regions of the FSU.

As an example, in ever-growing closer relations, last week Saudi Arabia and Turkey announced cooperative farming efforts. As I write this, Turkey is in the process of welcoming the UAE's agricultural investments which concern 1.8 million hectares of land and a 2,117 km-long railroad project linking countries across the region. There are 300 million more acres in Brazil that could be brought into production. A recent Scientific American article stated that potential farmland across the globe could increase farm production land from 1.5 billion hectares to 4 billion cultivated hectares, mostly coming from Africa and Latin America.

You say it can't happen? Then, you might also want to consider that Brazil and China are ramping up investment in technological advances for agricultural production with the goal of increasing output. Genetic seed technology and advancement might only be in its earliest stages. Throw in the economic condition that right now 40 percent of the world's populations are experiencing a growth rate of eight percent or more.

Sometimes when you hear someone say something it burns into your brain. About a year ago, I heard Bill Reinert, head of the alternative energy division at Toyota say "you ain't seen noth'n yet when it comes to environmental degradation of going after remaining fossil fuels." That one burned into my brain. I frequently see parallels in the dynamics of oil production and agricultural production and I saw one in that statement, too.