America has a culture because of agriculture – Oct. 28, 2010
“There is no culture without agriculture.”–Dr. Gary Sides commented at the “Today’s Agriculture, Feeding the World” Forum in Torrington. Take a moment to think about how far technology has brought us in America. We can golf, go to movies, take a vacation, drive our kids to soccer games or go watch a football game with friends because we don’t have to work day and night to grow our own food thanks to agriculture! Because of technological advances, we don’t have to worry about our kids dying from childhood diseases.
“Advancements in agriculture have freed up people to develop things like replacement knee surgery,” Dr. Sides, Pfizer Animal Health, said. “Or eradicate diseases like polio.”
We take so many of the luxuries our culture affords us for granted. Speaking to an audience of nearly 200 people, Dr. Sides referenced his grandfather who lived from 1888-1975. He was a rancher in New Mexico and saw a tremendous change in technology in one lifetime. According to Dr. Sides, when his Grandpa was asked what the biggest change he had seen in his lifetime, he replied: “That cold air blowing out of the dashboard of my pickup.”
How many of us take for granted that we have air conditioning in our vehicles? We can drive from place to place without worrying about overheating in the hot summer weather.
Another luxury in our culture we take for granted is the fact that many deadly diseases have been eradicated. Sides quoted the statement from Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA,
“If we had adopted the philosophy of groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA, we would still be dying from polio like my dad did in 1952, at the ripe old age of 23,” Sides stated.
In 1900, life expectancy in the United States was 47 years of age, and everything we ate was organic – there was no technology used in either animal or plant agriculture. Today we have almost doubled life expectancy to almost 80 years. “We use more technology now than ever and the life expectancy is longer than ever,” Sides pointed out.
Sides stated in rural Peru the life expectancy is less than 50 years. He showed a picture of a woman carrying heavy sacks on their backs with her kids walking beside. “These women are not soccer-moms,” He stated. “Without technology, life is tough.”
A Pulitzer Prize photo showed an African child bent over about to die from starvation. A vulture was waiting just a few feet away. “25,000 children die every day due to starvation,” Dr. Sides stated. “We never experience this nor do our children thanks to technology’s impact on agriculture.”
Sides recognized Norman Borlaug, who is known as “The Man Who Fed the World (or the Father of the green revolution).” “Most people don’t even recognize his photo, but he is credited with saving a billion lives due to scientific progress in producing food,” Sides said.
Having food that is readily available is all most of us have ever experienced in our lifetime. The picture would be much different though if technology was frozen in time.
“If technology was frozen in the year 1955, it would require an additional 450 million acres (the total land mass of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma) to produce the beef we are producing today,” Sides commented.
“Globally, if we still achieved yields of 1960, an additional 15-20 million square miles of farmland would be needed to produce today’s food supply,” He continued.
In 1961, the United States population was close to 184 million people. In 2006, that number was greater than 300 million people. Sides related those numbers back to 1960. “If agriculture technology today was the same as 1960, we would either have to 1) expand acres by 63% or 2) decrease food consumption by 63%,” He explained.
21st century food challenge
It is predicted that the world population will increase to nine billion by 2050. That means we will need a 50% increase in the food supply by 2030 and 100% increase by 2050.
Sides commented there are simply two ways to meet global food demand. “One is to take more land from nature (divert Yellowstone, the Black Hills or the Brazilian rain forests into agricultural lands). The other choice is to produce more per acre or per animal on lands currently in agricultural production,” He said. “Which alternative do you prefer?”
Sides points out that farming technology enables U.S. agriculture to produce 70% more corn from each pound fertilizer, use 50-80% less water, decrease soil erosion by 43% in the last 20 years and produce 18% of the world’s food supply on only 10% of acres.
Stand up for what you believe
With so many pieces of misinformation about agriculture, Sides shared facts and encouraged folks to know the truth and speak out about it. The fact about hormones in beef serves as an example.
“One birth control pill contains the same amount of estrogen as 125,000 pounds of beef from implanted steers,” Dr. Sides stated.
Dr. Sides shared data from an Oklahoma State University study to showcase the truth about hormones. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram, which is similar to one blade of grass in a football field. It is interesting to note that soybean oil, wheat germ, peas and milk all have more estrogen than a typical serving of beef. Here are the amounts of estrogen in a one pound serving: untreated steer=8 nanograms; implanted steer=11 nanograms; untreated heifer=9 nanograms; bulls=110 nanograms; a tablespoon of soybean oil=1,000 nanograms; and a 12 ounce glass of milk =65 nanograms.
We have food
The old quote comes to mind: “When people have food, they have a lot of problems. When people don’t have food, they only have one problem.” Fortunately, thanks to agriculture and the impacts of technological advances, we don’t have to worry about not having food to eat. However, this luxury does bring with it those who want to question everything we do to produce food and fiber here in America.
The Oct. 7 Today’s Agriculture, Feeding the World” Forum was presented in partnership by the Eastern Wyoming College Agriculture Department, Goshen County Farm Bureau and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Committee.