By Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam
Published in the Orlando Sentinel
An old proverb says; “when there is food, there are many problems; when there is no food, there is only one problem.” While we in the United States enjoy our bounty, most of the world’s population struggles mightily to feed themselves and manage the instability that accompanies scarcity.
Today, more than seven billion people make up the world’s population. By 2050, we’ll have two billion more as the world’s population is expected to surpass nine billion. In order to feed this growing population, the world’s farmers would have to increase food production by 70 percent. How is that possible?
With research and technology, we’ve improved farming techniques, allowing us to produce more food on less land and with less labor. In 1960, the 17 largest crops grown in America totaled 252 million tons of production. By 1990, the same crops yielded 600 million tons on 25 million fewer acres.
Only with research and technology can we increase productivity and increase yield over the next 50 years to meet the demand of the growing population.
In some ways, however, the increase in efficiency has created a very real threat for the agriculture industry. There’s been a shift in society from one in which 98 percent of individuals were involved in food production to a society in which less than two percent of the population works to feed the rest. As our society has grown increasingly urbanized, people have lost their sense of where their food comes from. People visit a grocery store, restaurant or other food vendor with the expectation that the food they prefer will be available to them. Many have no idea the effort that goes into food production.
There are more than two million farms remaining in America and, collectively, they produce the lion’s share of the food and fiber that America and the rest of the world depend on. Here in Florida, more than 47,000 farms on 24 million acres produce more than 300 commodities during our year-round growing season, including cattle, timber, seafood, sugar, fruits, vegetables and nursery crops.
Our farms don’t just produce food and fiber, but they also power our economy. More than 21 million American workers produce, process or sell the nation’s food supply. Farms and ranches spent $311 billion to produce $374 billion in goods last year. The United States boasts a trade surplus in terms of agriculture, exporting $34 billion more than we import. Exports of agricultural products from Florida alone have increased by $1.2 billion – 40 percent – during the past five years. Agriculture has a $108 billion impact on our state’s economy and supports more than two million Florida jobs.
Despite the critical importance of agriculture to our society and the industry’s contributions to our economy, farm policies are being held hostage by Washington. The industry’s proposals that failed to pass the last Congress offered billions in savings while still modernizing our food, fiber and conservation policies.Washington must act to provide certainty to rural America and provide us with the food security this nation has come to rely on.
This week, farmers from around Florida and across the nation will gather in Kissimmee at the Commodity Classic. America’s soybean, corn, wheat and sorghum farmers will learn about the latest innovations in farming, explore methods to maximize efficiency and hear from the individuals whose research has transformed agricultural production. They’ll discuss farm policies and how we can nearly double food production to meet the demand of the world’s nine billion people by 2050.
So when the backbone of American agriculture makes their way to the nation’s capital of tourism this week, I hope you will welcome the farmers and show your support for what they do. Agriculture supplies the food and fiber that feeds you, me and the rest of the world.