Growing Population and Shrinking Farmland Present Challenges

Farmers have an obligation to their consumers that few other producers have in our economy. Very few people need a new car or a new pair of jeans in order to survive. But they need food every day – fresh, safe, nourishing food. It’s not a luxury. Without the food farmers produce, there would be global hunger, starvation and famine.

Yet few farmers think about their obligation to the global marketplace. Like many business owners, farmers are focused on their profitability and their pride in what they produce. They’re looking to the year ahead, working to make sure they turn a profit so they can support their families, pay their workers and buy the equipment they need to continue operating.

But it’s time to think about the future food needs of the world because failure to comprehend what will happen to food demand over the next 30 years may determine whether your farm survives.

Every Farmer’s Responsibility

The world population is about 7 billion people today and by 2050 is projected to be 10 billion. That’s more than a 40% increase in just 30 years. Over the same time frame, we could lose 20% to 25% of the farmland that is currently in production.

That means we’ll have to approximately double production on the ground that remains just to be able to feed the world. It’s every farmer’s responsibility to understand that and to embrace the farm technology and techniques that will boost productivity. It’s going to take a lot of innovation, including farm management technology, more efficient use of resources, use of genetically modified seed, and more.

If you don’t embrace these technologies and methods, but your peers do, your farm may not be a viable business operation for long. When you’re focused on managing your farm day to day and trying to ensure a profitable year, it’s hard to look out on the horizon and realize that in our lifetimes we may tap out the world’s resources to feed a burgeoning population. Many farmers embrace technology as a means of being competitive, but they don’t view it as a necessity to meet future world food demands.

Farmers have a critical role to play to meet that demand, but it will require innovation, creativity and a willingness to embrace new ideas. Grandpa’s ways of running the farm won’t work anymore.

Thinking Strategically

These are big global issues that may seem far removed from your farm. But they’re not far removed. They come right back down to individual farmers and the investments they make today that will have ripple effects beyond today’s markets.

What steps are you taking today to put your farm where it will need to be in 30 years? If you say that’s your son’s problem, you’re right. It will be your son’s problem if you don’t help lead the way today. You’re not going to be able to flip a switch in a couple of years and double your production. It’s critical to use the science and technology that is available today to start boosting production 5% a year, or 10% a year, so 30 years from now your farm can have a chance to compete in the marketplace and help feed the world.

What You Can Do Now

Here are a few things you can do now to start thinking and acting strategically:

  • Don’t just plan for this year, plan for the future. Embrace the idea of strategic planning, considering both your needs and the needs of your global marketplace.
  • Actively manage your farm, not just this year but strategically into the future. Are you strategic in planning the future and meeting future marketplace needs? The decisions you make over the next five years should lead you down the path you’ll need to be on 30 years from now.
  • Ask the questions that will help you make decisions that will take your farm into the future. How do you produce better crops on less water? How can you increase production? You don’t need to double today, but you can start with small increases. If you lost 25% of your farmland and had to double crop production, how could you do it? Today it may be impossible, but over the next 30 years it could be possible. Be open to the science and technology that will help get you there.
  • Look at the technologies that are out there. Are they appropriate for your operation? When do you explore them, and which ones should you be considering?
  • Pay attention to new developments. Many farmers tend to farm on their own doing things the way their parents and grandparents did. But those old ways won’t cut it in today’s marketplace. Get involved in farming peer groups and learn from other people who are developing better methods. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo, or you will become obsolete.

Thirty years ago, or even 50 years ago, farms looked pretty much the way they do now. But 30 years from now farms will look radically different and will be run differently. We must embrace that to compete economically and fulfill the farmer’s role in feeding the world.

If you would like to have a conversation about thinking and acting strategically in your farm operations, contact your Adams Brown advisor.