Dr. Victor L. Martin
One of the classes many students in the Agricultural Program at Barton take is titled, “Agriculture In Society.” The purpose of this course is to explore not only the effects our agriculture heritage has had on the development of our country but how the country as a whole interacts with and views the industry and culture of agriculture today. This necessarily involves some history and background, from hunter-gatherers to today’s modern mechanized farm industry, and how the development of today’s agricultural production allowed for the emergence of an urban, technological society. But that’s only a part of the story.
The other important aspect of the class is examining the problems, opportunities, and challenges facing agricultural production in an urban society and in a world with over seven billion people. Inherit in this examination for students is not only determining how they feel about the myriad of issues but maybe more importantly why they feel like they do. There is one principle that guides the expression of their opinions, they are allowed to have whatever opinion they want but they need to explain why they have formed that opinion. The agriculture industry, like any other, will only survive and prosper if the people involved can think critically evaluate information and make informed opinions and choices. This is especially important for agriculture as it faces challenges from various interest groups; local, state, national, and world governments; an ever consolidating business complex, and an urban population woefully ignorant of what goes into producing food, fiber, fuel.
This week, students worked together to determine what problems and perils face them as they prepare to enter the work force, whether the family farm or a major agribusiness concern. They developed an extensive list that reflected their rural backgrounds and topics discussed in class. Now they are going to compare that list to what those in agriculture have determined are the threats to farming. With the space remaining, it should be interesting to see what people ranging from government officials to farm groups and organic farmers think regarding the future of agriculture. And before you read on, why not take a second and determine what challenges you think face the industry. Keep in mind this is a brief list and not meant to be all inclusive.
· Increased need/desire for meat in Asia, especially China, India, and other developing countries and the pressure it places on resources.
· Disease transfer from animal to human as animal production increases in Asia (think bird flu).
· Lack of labor in much of the world for farming as people continue to move to cities. An aging agricultural workforce.
· The need for education as the public becomes more concerned with food safety. This and the previous points were raised by an FAO representative
· Climate change and the ability to sustain food production. This is a concern of many.
· Lack of stability of world governments and of food production in much of the world.
· Inequality in distribution of money and resources within our country and the world.
· Overall increased demand for meat, especially beef, and the need for more corn.
· The cost of energy as it relates to the fertilizer and energy needs of crop production and food processing.
· Lack of usable water for agriculture, especially in areas like the Great Plains and much of the developing world.
· Loss of soil through erosion and other forms of land degradation. Loss of soil organic matter
· Pest resistance to control, especially glyphosate
· Government overregulation
· Government under regulation
· Lack of government investment in research
· Anti-science forces from the left and right
· Industrial farming, lack of competition, and industry consolidation
And the list goes on.