Turkey Day Thoughts: Feeling Good About Ag

As Thanksgiving approaches, the agriculture-related messages coming into my email seem to have become especially bipolar. I got yet another email forward, a Bloomberg article sent to me from a fellow editor, just crushing the ethanol movement. And I’ve heard ad nauseum about the Farm Bill now in stall mode.

Makes me wonder sometimes whether all this technology is a waste of time. But some other stuff I’ve read this week perked up my spirits. Actually, one email, a story in our local newspaper — yes, I do still indulge in the great dinosaur, especially for opinion — and an old book I revisited.

Anyway, the first story was a release from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), released at a week-long meeting of the organization’s governing 192 member Conference. Jacques Diouf, the director-general, said that “agriculture will play a crucial role in the key issues facing humanity this century. I should like to see the new agriculture aligned with a new FAO.”

The release noted that agriculture was the focus of the World Bank’s recent 2008 World Development Report, the first to be devoted to agriculture in 25 years. “It is time to place agriculture afresh at the center of development, taking account of the vastly different context of opportunities and challenges that has emerged,” Diouf said.

“On climate change, energy supply, natural resources depletion, population movements, and indeed on the very health and security of nations, agriculture is central both to the problem and to its resolution,” he continued.

While “attention” can be a double-edged sword, it was interesting to note the recognition that a vital, productive agriculture industry is important to the future of the planet. The release also pointed out the future challenges of the increasing world population — estimated to exceed 9 billion by 2050. “This will require a second Green Revolution aimed at virtually doubling food production in the first half of this century,” says Diouf.

Are you ready for a second Green Revolution?

The newspaper article was a review of a new book on the Ming Dynasty, called Return to Dragon Mountain. Apparently, a guy named Zhang Dai who lived to see the peak, and then the fall of Ming rule, wrote extensively about his experiences in stories, biographies, and poetry. During high-clover times his life was one of luxury. The reviewer chose this Zhang quote: “I was born into a wealthy family, surrounded by ritual objects/never learning agricultural skills/rice was plentiful in the granaries/a hundred people worked for my meals.” Sound familiar? What’s scary — the Mings lasted 229 years. Also sound familiar?

Not that America is destined for the scrap heap, but our lack of knowledge and appreciation for agriculture today measures up with civilizations past. To me, the global emphasis on agriculture by the FAO is an important recognition by international thought leaders.

Finally, I found an old copy of a book I read several years ago out of curiosity, Thomas More’s Utopia. At the core of his Utopian society was agriculture. Every single citizen was required to learn how to grow food by spending time farming. After all, how could any society survive without food? Even Utopia?

Hmm. Guess agriculture does have a future, and all the effort to make it more efficient and profitable for growers, consultants, and retailers is important work. Some things to think about as you dine on turkey, and remember that you work in the most important industry in the world.

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