Food production, distribution system not really 'broken'

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

There’s no doubt that Americans need better eating habits and more exercise. Diets of fast food and video gaming have resulted in an increase of Type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease that reduces life expectancy.

While most of us can agree on that, food and agricultural groups are bristling at a contention that their industry is “broken,” adding an excessive amount of greenhouse gas, exploiting labor and adding to income inequality, charges leveled by food-system activists in a Washington Post editorial a few years ago.

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association passed along some statistics from the Farmers Go To Market publication that make their case:

* Agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy, and globally, increasing output without putting more land under the plow.

* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said agriculture accounts for only about 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, lower than electrical generation, transportation and industry.

* Technological improvements and better production practices have substantially lowered energy use, water use and greenhouse gas effects of food production per unit of output over time.

* Compared to the 1950s, the amount of land needed to farm has fallen 26 percent, while output has grown 180 percent.

* The use of weedkiller has remained relatively steady for the past 35 years, and bug killer has dropped by 77 percent since 1970. At the same time, the average toxicity of those pesticides has significantly fallen.

* Soil erosion has fallen off more than 40 percent since the 1980s.

* Farms are increasingly using cover crops and no-till farming, thanks in part to biotechnology, and the majority of corn, wheat and soybean farmers practice crop rotation.

* Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show US life expectancy continues to increase overall.

* Globally, the percent of the world’s population living in absolute poverty declined from 44 percent to 1981 to under 10 percent today. The share of the world population that is undernourished fell by half since 1990 and reductions in hunger are strongly, positively correlated with agricultural industrialization as measured by agricultural labor productivity.

Southwest Nebraska has a direct connection with a couple of these points; namely increased efficiency and erosion.

McCook’s Valmont plant produces center-pivot irrigation equipment that has contributed significantly to the water and erosion efficiency cited above.

Plus, improved erosion control probably played a big part in the dispute with Kansas over the Republican River Compact dispute. Years of conservation measures reduced runoff, keeping water in Nebraska that formerly would have found its way to Kansas.

Yes, America’s food production and distribution system can use improvement, but it is far from broken.


Read the Farmer Goes To Market article here.

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