Food Day panelists discuss future visions of agriculture

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2012- National Food Day, an effort created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, hosted panels of academics and food analysts last night to discuss their visions for food and agriculture a few decades from now.

Included in a panel focused on agriculture, Professor at University of Michigan's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Catherine Badgley, said she envisioned a shift from a few large farms to many small farms in rural and urban settings by 2050. She also said she expects a system focused on higher priced and higher valued food, and a shift “from top down food policies to grass roots movements.”

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According to Badgley, this type of system “will deliver a greater proportion of calories grown on the farm to consumers,” and a reduction in post-harvest losses.

Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project, included a greater amount of urban farming in her expectations, considering more of the population will be living in cities. 

She said the current focus is on improving yields, but she expects to see more of “focus, interest and investment in the nutritional quality of the crops we're producing, not the quantity.”

Badgley agreed, but also added that she thought farms would be measured by not only yield, but the number of native species, carbon sequestration advantages and people they employ, among other factors.

To facilitate this vision, she said what is needed “is a big shift in food subsidies in the farm bill to support those aspects of farms we want to see more of. We could easily shift from corn and soybean to vegetables, fruits and pasture-based livestock.”

Badgley said the “current system” of agriculture will change, which is “why I have a great deal of optimism.” Although the United States has an advantage by only using an average 10 percent of income toward forward, the cheap price has “led to food being undervalued,” she said, noting the lack of connection from the farm to the consumer. “Making food more valuable will bring these connections back in focus.”

However, A.G. Kawamura, farmer and former California Secretary of Agriculture, emphasized that the future of agriculture will have to include organic, biotechnology, large and small farms. 

“We don't want to work on a strategy of a future that's dealing with scarcity, we want to create abundance,” he said. “The key word for that is adaptation.”

He emphasized that diverse systems of food production will allow more waste use for energy, noting that “dumps will become real valuable mining sites here in years to come.”

“We're comfortable criticizing our food system because we have so much food in this country,” he said. “We create enough abundance that there's a willingness to criticize the food supply as being broken.”

“We have to embrace the fact that big is not bad, small is not necessarily the best, but they're all important,” Kawamura said. 

The theme of the discussion revolved around the growing world population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050. 

“There is so much happening in a very short amount of time,” Kawamura noted. “We have the capacity to feed the world today for the first time in human history, but we don't have the will to do it. Will we even have the capacity in 2050?”

He noted that a large segment of U.S. culture is “having a conscious crisis” about its food, but that it would be a mistake to “forget the fundamentals that allow us to make that possible.” 


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