A New Year, and 8 billion people to feed in 2023
Our global community hit an incredible milestone this fall, although you likely didn’t hear much about it, buried underneath all the mid-term election, inflation and holiday talk.
On Nov. 15, the world’s population reached a record 8 billion people, according to United Nations’ estimates.
That’s more than three times larger than the world population of 2.5 billion people in the 1950s, when my parents were farm kids growing up in northern Iowa.
And 15 years from now, when my daughter is college-age, the world population will reach 9 billion people.
It’s staggering to think how many more people will be on our planet in only three generations’ time. And what it will take to ensure that every person – from across the globe, in vastly different climates – has access to nutritious, safe food.
One factor driving global population growth is rising life expectancies thanks to improvements in health care, nutrition and housing, the U.N. reports. As a result, the share of the world’s population aged 65-plus will rise from 10% today to 16% in 2050.
As more people age, they will need access to convenient, nutritious food, without having to do the hard work of growing, storing and cooking it themselves.
Ask any Iowa farmer what they are most proud of, what motivates them on those long, exhausting days when they must wake up at 3 a.m. to milk cows, load a trailer of hogs or unfreeze a water tank in a pasture on a sub-zero day.
And farmers will, without a doubt, say they are proud to grow nutritious food – for families here in Iowa, across the nation and around the world.
Today, one U.S. farm feeds 166 people annually in the U.S. and abroad, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. To feed 9 billion people, farmers will need to produce 70% more food than what is currently produced.
Unfortunately, as an ag communicator, I’ve seen market research showing that the message “U.S. farmers feed the world” doesn’t resonate with consumers today.
Yet I refuse to believe, in a country where people give so greatly in times of need around the world, that Americans really don’t care about food security, especially for the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Over the past century, food and agriculture innovations - including refrigeration and nitrogen fertilizer – have helped farmers meet the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing world population.
Today, farmers are doing more, growing more, using fewer resources. Through improvements in crop yields, animal nutrition and breeding, the U.S. is producing 80% more pork, 79% more corn, 51% more milk and 20% more milk compared to 1990, reports the American Farm Bureau.
Meanwhile, farmers are shrinking their environmental footprint. For example, U.S. dairy farms are now producing 1 gallon of milk using 30% less water and 21% less land, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 19%, compared to a decade ago.
But our work isn’t done. We need new technologies to address not only population growth, but also the sustainability challenges of climate change, farmer and employee safety, animal care, water quality and nutrition.
Admittedly, I tend to be a “glass half empty” type of person. Yet when I learn more about the collaborative work among farmers and scientists to solve our world’s most pressing challenges, I’m nothing but optimistic.
We have good reason to be excited about what the future holds for agriculture and food production in the next 15 years, when the world is home to 9 billion people.
The work that Iowa farmers are doing today will make the future better for my daughter – and the next generation.
Farmers should be proud that they feed the world, and we should all be proud of Iowa farmers and support their work.
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