The world today is a lot less hungry than it was in our parents and grandparents generations, and maybe less hungry than at any time in human history, according to Kenneth Quinn, who heads of the Iowa-based World Food Prize organization. And the amazing productivity gains by American farmers are a big reason for that progress, he says.

“The past 50 or 60 years is the single most significant period in all human history of food production and hunger reduction, and American farmers have played a dramatic and central role in that,” said Quinn, who was recently awarded the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Distinguished Service Award at the organization’s 94th annual meeting in Nashville.

America agriculture is in indeed in an unrivaled era. Using cutting edge technology, knowledge that has been passed down from generation and a lot of hard work, farmers are harvesting significantly more food with fewer resources than their forefathers.

But it’s the farmers’ commitment that impresses Quinn, who worked all over the globe for decades serving as a diplomat before joining the World Food Prize.

Farmers today understand that they are producing food that helps nourish people in their hometowns, across the country and around the globe, Quinn said. And it’s a mission they are glad to accept, he said.

“I think there is deeply ingrained in American farmers the sense that what we do in Iowa and around the country isn’t just taking care of you own family or those around you, but what farmers do has so much impact in the entire world.”

For Quinn himself, the story of American agriculture’s progress in feeding the world has become even clearer as he helped design an exhibit on the history of farming for the new World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines.

“I’m working on an exhibit that is a timeline of agriculture’s progress going back to the first time a human being dug in the ground and planted a seed, and I’m trying to come up with about 25 of the key events in all that history,” he said. “And one of those main events has been the American 20th century agriculture experience.”

It’s a combination of research from the land grant colleges, agribusiness and infrastructure that has made American agriculture so successful, Quinn said. “But at the heart of it all are the farmers who have increased yields so much.”

It’s a great achievement, but with the world population continuing to rise, farm productivity has to keep rising, Quinn said. “Farmers should pat themselves on the back, and then we need them to do it all again.”

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau