There is No Place Like Nebraska for Meeting Food Challenges
By Emma Likens
Ibach has confidence in the ingenuity of Nebraska farmers and ranchers
By 2050, the world's agricultural producers are going to have to grow enough food to feed nine billion people. According to Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, some estimates say it will be as soon as 2040. In just three decades, producers are going to have to produce more food in the timeframe forward than has been produced in the history of the world to date. Ibach said while great gains in yield were made during the Green Revolution, these gains are starting to slow. Food production won't be allocated any more land or water; instead, improvements will have to be made in efficiency and drought tolerance. Ibach points to the need of another Green Revolution, fueled by the ingenuity of Nebraska's farmers and ranchers.
Ibach said Nebraska has a great environment for agriculture. The climate allows for disease prevention in plants and animals and the state has an unmatched resource set, from some of the world's most fertile soils to the available water for irrigation of crops. Nebraska also has balance between crop production and the livestock industry, allowing for the fourth largest agricultural economy in the nation.
"When you look at our balance between our crops, our livestock, and the natural resources, we have to be able to produce both of those. I think Nebraska is poised like no other state in the nation, and maybe like no other area in the world, to be able to take advantage of the world's need for food," he said.
Adopting technologies, producing more with less
Ibach attributes Nebraska's positive situation to the farmers and ranchers, who, he said, have proven themselves to be some of the most aggressive producers in the world when it comes to incorporating new technologies into their practices. Nebraska producers embrace technologies from both university based research and multinational companies, allowing them to use less fertilizer, fewer pesticides and less water, Ibach said.
Nebraska's producers may be technologically-advanced in their production practices, but when it comes to telling consumers their story, they're just getting started.
Ibach said that many years ago, "consumers were happy to go to the grocery store and buy what was on the shelf and not really ask too many questions. Now, more and more it seems that consumers worldwide want to know the story about their food and how it was produced." He believes Nebraska has a great agricultural story, centered around the 99 percent of farms and ranches that are familyowned, many for several generations. Ibach said "our wide open spaces, our fertile soils, our clean, clear water, [and] our blue skies those crops and livestock are produced under are all great stories to tell about Nebraska agriculture, and the type of stories consumers want to hear."
Telling the story of safe, wholesome food
By telling these stories and giving consumers confidence, Nebraska can increase local and global demand for their agricultural products. According to Ibach, "consumers need to be confident that the food they have, at whatever volume it comes to them at, is safe."
Even if large volume of food is available but consumers are afraid to consume it, it can't be of any help. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture's programs are balanced to ensure food safety and consumer confidence. Such programs range from regulatory checks at restaurants to requirements for fertilizer and pesticide use. Ibach said once consumer confidence is established, the department can "work with producers to help them produce to those markets, help them communicate their day-to-day activities to consumers, to be able to balance our productive ability with the demand for Nebraska's agricultural products."
Also in telling agriculture's story and inspiring consumer confidence, consumer misconceptions can be avoided. Consumer misconceptions stem from concerns about production practices and can turn into food safety issues and become part of policymaking as nonscientific trade barriers. Some examples of nonscientific trade barriers are concerns about genetically-enhanced products such as corn and soybeans, both of which are grown in Nebraska. These crops are fed to livestock, which then become nonscientific barriers to trade. Although genetically-enhanced products adhere to world scientific standards and are scientifically sound, they are slow to gain consumer acceptance, Ibach said.
"One of the challenges that we face is convincing consumers that we do our due diligence as we develop food products to make sure that they're safe and that we adhere to world scientific standards when we introduce production practices into our agricultural economy, and then that they should adhere to those same world scientific standards to accept our products," Ibach said.
Focusing on opportunities, partnerships, feeding people
The department's focus is on long-term rather than short-term goals, all the while investigating opportunities to meet consumer demands. Nebraska is a largely commercial production state, producing large volumes of food, but the state also has the ability to specialize its agricultural production to meet a specific consumer demand. Some examples are hormone-free beef for the European market, as well as organic products.
"We just need to continue to inform producers about consumers' needs and wants, and at the same time we're informing consumers about the opportunities there are for them to have safe, affordable food in many different offerings. That's the balance we try to strike, informing consumers as well as producing to their needs and desires," he said.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture works closely with the University of Nebraska to communicate with both producers and consumers and achieve goals both desire to reach. Ibach said the department is able to distribute information to producers through University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension programs, and the university helps with ensuring that testing procedures are accurate. In return, when the Department of Agriculture is promoting products in a foreign market, they promote NU as a land-grant university and its missions of teaching, research and extension. "We work to get the university exposure to be able to attract more students and be able to also offer their research findings around the world," he said.
Such projects are funded through several different sources, and sometimes combinations of sources. The department receives about a third of its funding from general funds from taxes paid by Nebraskans. It also receives cash funds, which are fees from industries the department regulates. "In a lot of cases, some of our regulatory programs are cofunded between cash funds and general funds, as a partnership between public and private to make sure that we're assuring consumers and producers that our food is safe and wholesome," Ibach said. Funding also comes from federal grants and from Nebraska's commodity boards and their producer checkoff programs. The department works with commodity boards to create programs and invest their dollars in promoting their products.
One example of funding at work is a project being conducted by the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission, modeled after a method used by the U.S. Grains Council. In the U.S. Grains Council project, people globally were educated in how to use corn in the same ways corn is used in Nebraska, especially for livestock feed. The Nebraska Dry Bean Commission is working with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the UNL Department of Food Science and Technology on a project with China, which has challenges feeding its growing population. In this project, Chinese are being taught how to incorporate dry beans into their diets.
"We're hoping that by teaching their citizens how to consume a nutritious, wholesome product that they produce right there in China that we'll increase the demand for the Chinese-grown dry beans, and then open up the marketplace not only for the American and Nebraskan dry beans in China, but make more room for us to compete in the worldwide marketplace and be a supplier without the competition that China represents in that marketplace."
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