One of the overriding issues of agriculture moving forward is simply feeding a growing world population.
At times we seem to lose sight of that fact in view of more immediate issues, whether that is the increasing cost of fuel, problems attracting workers, or the new world of grain marketing post-Canadian Wheat Board.
But as we move forward the world’s population is going to climb. There are not even hints of any real effort being made to start a public dialogue on how the world might address that growth in a reasonable way.
So we have to work on making sure farm production stays ahead of the increasing population.
At times we think of farmers in North America being at the forefront of that effort. Farmers here look at production techniques as the answer. Genetically modified crop varieties hold out hope for greater yields, as do better application of nutrients through variable rates tailored to specific needs within a field.
North American farmers are only part of the equation in terms of long term production.
More important, at least in the shorter term than GM, will be helping farmers in other countries increase their production capabilities.
We are seeing some of that as farmers in South America are now major producers of soybeans.
There was a time when countries such as Ukraine were major producers of wheat. Eastern Europe was a major grain producer. A couple of world wars, and the control of Moscow for decades, left the region years behind in terms of technology.
I can recall a tour of farmers for Eastern Europe in Yorkton a decade, or so ago, where it wasn’t the large scale combines which most interested them because it was too far ahead of them. The grain augers they saw was something they could see as being immediately helpful on the farm.
As far behind on a technological level as farmers in Eastern Europe may be, farmers in Africa are decades behind that. If Africa had the technological advancements farmers have here in Canada imagine the farm production that could be achieved.
But, there is more to it than production.
In a recent Western Producer article a startlingly sad statistic was at the heart of a story.
In the article Colin Osborne, president of Vicwest, which owns Westeel grain bins noted, “The minister of agriculture of India claims they lose 22 per cent of everything they crop. So they grow 400 million tonnes of crop every year and they lose 88 million tonnes through rot, contamination and animals.
“To put that in perspective, Canada only grows about 72 million [tonnes per year].”
Food loss is not a problem isolated to India.
Food storage, vermin issues, and transportation problems account for substantial losses of food.
That will become unacceptable in the future when every bushel of food will be critical, and on a world level how we protect the world’s food supply will be as important in the future as increasing actual farm production.
In many respects the answers exist, better granaries, better management systems.
But like production, getting systems to go from farming with hoes to half-million dollar tractors is a technological step which will not easily be achieved.
To feed our future it is a step that must be made.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.