By Brooke Talbott
"I really believe that we're sitting at the front end of a complete renaissance for agriculture in the world... what some are calling the 'golden age for agriculture,'" said Ronnie Green, University of Nebraska Vice President and Harlan Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR).
Demographers predict that by the year 2050, the world population will grow from the current seven billion to more than nine billion; meaning food production must double to meet demands. Nebraska is going to be a great contributor to producing the food for the world, Green said.
"Ag is sexy again," he added.
The current generation displays a greater interest in agriculture than in previous generations, Green said. There is something about agriculture that is wholesome and appeals to them, he said, which was not the case 20 years ago. This is evident in the emergence of online farming games that are, according to Green, "all the rave amongst urban dwellers."
Addressing global food scarcity issues is one of the biggest challenges the next generation will face, Green said. Anyone can be a part of addressing it; anyone can be a part of figuring out how to effectively use resources long-term to feed the world.
Society needs to understand the importance of the food system and its long-term maintenance, Green said. One of the base requirements of the stewardship of the natural resources is to produce what is needed for the health and well-being of the world population.
"Every Nebraskan should feel that is important and that it is a responsibility we all have," Green said. "That doesn't matter whether you're a lawyer in downtown Omaha or whether you're a farmer in Chase County, Nebraska."
Global mismatch of resources, people
Globally, there is a mismatch of land, people and resources, Green said. There are areas that do not have enough food, areas that do have enough food and areas that have more than enough food.
Of the seven billion people in the world, one billion are considered malnourished. At the same time, one billion are considered to be overweight. Of the billion people overweight, more than 300 million are considered to be obese. As a result, the latter group faces lifestyle diseases as a result of too much food or the misuse of food, Green said.
Countries that are food-scarce cannot sustain their own populations because they don't have sufficient natural or human resources, he said. Other countries that are food-secure, such as the United States, can sustain their own populations and often can produce surplus food for export. Inadequate access to food, distribution of that food and issues related to the transportation of food are additional factors that play into this, Green said.
"Fast-forward 40 years from now, with two-and-a-half billion more people," Green said, and there will be "more mismatch of where people are going to be relative to the resources to produce food."
If the world's cropland were put together, it would be nearly equivalent to the surface area of South America. If the world's pasture land were put together, it would be nearly equivalent to the surface area of Africa. The challenge is to find ways that crop and pasture land can produce to their potential without depleting natural resources.
Faculty and staff within the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources are focused on producing more food with fewer natural resources. Increasing efficiency, productivity and sustainability of the resource base is the mission of IANR, Green said, with a focus on finding ways to produce more food and fuel with less water, land resources and capital required per unit of production.
Enhancing human health with adequate nutrition is part of that equation, too, Green said.
The expertise in Nebraska on agriculture and natural resources will contribute to solving the global food challenge. "Nebraska is really the epicenter of food production," Green said. "As a state, we need to pay careful attention to the maintenance of the resources that we have, have the right kind of system in place that conserves those resources in the right way and uses them wisely."
Nebraska's economy is heavily-reliant on food production; one out of three jobs in Nebraska is related to agriculture. Nebraska ranks first in the United States in commercial red meat production, first in Great Northern bean production and first in popcorn production, based on 2010 national estimates. The top four crops grown in Nebraska are corn, soybeans, dry edible beans and wheat for food and livestock feed, said Green.
"We live in the breadbasket of North America, which is one of the greatest breadbaskets of the world," said Green. Because of this, Nebraska- and the way Nebraskans think about how to better use the world's resources long-term- is critical to feeding the world.
"Every Nebraskan, whether or not they're engaged in agriculture and the food system directly, should understand and care about the issues about feeding the world," Green said. "Agriculture and the food production systems are of importance to Nebraskans because agriculture is the core of who we are."
Focus on opportunity: NU Rural Futures Institute
In the last 50 years, there has been a shift in population from rural regions to larger urban areas. That is why the University of Nebraska is forming the Rural Futures Institute, set to launch in late September 2012. This institute will focus not only on Nebraska, but on the entire Great Plains region.
The mission of the IANR is to efficiently increase production, as well as sustainability of the resource base. "By definition, when you do that, you create a system that requires fewer people to produce the same amount," Green said. "Or in the future, fewer people to produce more."
Green said there is an obligation to look at the future of the rural landscape, including how the communities will look 50-75 years from now.
"If you look at Nebraska, for example, we have 93 counties," Green said, and "all but 16 of those counties have lost population, decade after decade." Part of the reason is because the agricultural and food production systems have moved to a larger-scale system and have become more efficient.
The Rural Futures Institute will address health care, nutrition, finance, new business development and infrastructure, the landscapes and the food systems of rural communities- by drawing on expertise from all campuses of the University of Nebraska.
"We live in a very different world today than we did 10 years ago," said Green. "Today there are opportunities for rural regions that we never thought there might be, because the world operates differently than it did before."
The way we do business, commerce, communication and the way we learn have changed, he said. One does not have to be in downtown Omaha to be in major commerce or be in the center of New York City to be in the center of the universe. Technology enables businesses to operate out of rural regions.
"If you fast-forward to 10 years from now or 20 years from now, based on what we've seen change in the last 10 years, you can start to envision opportunities in rural landscapes that haven't been traditionally thought of as possible," Green said. There are rural commerce opportunities, tourism and eco-tourism opportunities.
One of the things the Great Plains region has begun to understand about itself, Green said, is that the area has a really unique set of natural resource ecosystems. People are very interested in the Sandhill crane migration and in the fossil beds in Western Nebraska, he said. Opportunities surround those attractions.
"One of the biggest challenges that rural regions are going to have, I think, is this transition from the past to the future," Green said.
Land-grant mission observes 150 years
"The Land Grant Act has created a system that's been the envy of the world," Green said.
The year 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, proposed by Justin Smith Morrill and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War. "President Lincoln really saw that as critical to food security in the United States at a time point in the Civil War when it was a challenge for us," Green said.
The University of Nebraska is Nebraska's land grant university. "We're the people's university," Green said. The Morrill Act of 1862 granted 30,000 acres of land to each state and territory for each senator and representative in Congress. The land was allocated to establish at least one college in each state where the leading object would be to provide instruction in agriculture and related areas. The Morrill Act also made higher education available to "the industrial classes," instead of only the wealthy.
The Second Morrill Act was enacted in 1890 and established financial support of the land-grant institutions. This act not only established significant funding for instruction in food and agricultural sciences, but also funds for educating instructors in these areas. The Second Morrill Act also stated that no funds would be paid out to a college in any state or territory in which a distinction of race or color was made in the admission of students.
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act was signed, creating the Cooperative Extension Service, a partnership between landgrant institutions and the United States Department of Agriculture. The mission of land grant institutions evolved to teaching, research and outreach.
"My feeling is that the land grant mission of teaching, research and outreach for the public has never been more important than it is today," Green said. As Nebraskans move into facing future challenges of food scarcity, the land-grant mission- educating the next generation of leaders- will be critical to feeding the world.
"I think the next 50 years are going to be as critically important- or more so- than our past has been."
A Message From:
Facing the Global Food Challenge
A Place Without Limits: NU's Leading Role in Ag Innovation - J.B. Milliken
"Ag is Sexy Again" as Global Need for Food Increases- Ronnie Green
"Failure is Not an Option" in Addressing Global Food Scarcity- Archie Clutter
Dickey Reflects on Years as Dean of Extension- Elbert Dickey
Food Scarcity Information Dissemination Complex, Vital- Karen Cannon
Technology and Food
Nebraska- the Food Capital of the World?- Rolando Flores
Is a Fully-Sustainable World Within Reach?- Mark Burbach
Agricultural Efficiency Sustains Resources, Produces More- Roch Gaussoin
Technology, Teamwork and Stewardship Vital in Meeting 2050 Global Food Need- P. Stephen Baenziger
Protein Production Essential in Feeding the World- Matt Spangler
Nebraska's Irrigation Research Goes Global- William Kranz
The Plight of the Honey Bee- Marion Ellis
Society's Health Reflects Changing Food Culture- Georgia Jones and Marilynn Schnepf
Steps to Building a Healthier World- Jean Ann Fischer
Economics of Food
Ag Economists- Working to Assure Abundant, Safe Food- Larry Van Tassell
Global Food Scarcity, Distribution, Roadblocks- Dennis Conley
Global Economics Research Explains Food Scarcity Challenges- Lilyan Fulginiti
World Food Supply Adequate, but Poverty is the Problem- Wes Peterson
Ag Land Reflects Value of Growing Food for the Future- Bruce Johnson
A Land of Plenty- Exporting to the World Stan Garbacz- Stan Garbacz