By Paul Baker
NYSHS Executive Director
Sept. 1, in my mind, marks the official beginning of our fruit harvest.
Nationally and here in New York we are expecting another large crop. For the most part Mother Nature has been rather easy on all of the primary apple regions. No weather t r a g e d y means a big crop. Supply and demand usually tells us big crops drive down our prices. The question here when dealing with supply and demand is “who are our customers and how much do they wish to consume”?
We usually look at a U.S. crop to be marketed to a U.S. customer for the most part. Today with everything still on the tree and much yet to be decided politically by end of harvest I want to play the “what if” card.
Today the U.S. population is about 325 million. Our numbers are fairly steady as our birth rates have actually deceased over the last decade. We represent about 4.4 percent of the world’s population. China for example, the largest in population, is at 1.4 billion and India is close at 1.3 billion. Indonesia is a little shy of our population. Some important bench marks to keep in mind for this discussion are that since 1970 we have doubled the world population. Second in 2005 for the first time in history the urban populations were higher than the rural on the planet. In short more and more people are dependent on commercial agriculture as populations move from the land to the city.
The second area to consider today is what direction are we headed in this nation as far as public policy shifts. If we shift to a much more aggressive global market agenda we could see us seeking to take advantage of the 95 percent of the planet that does not live within our borders. While our domestic population remains quite steady globally we see the birth rates to be over twice the death rate. Combine this with the fact that that for many reasons we all are living longer we have an increased market share every year that needs our food. The end result is the planet needs every day more calories to take care of its increasing population.
So if the planet needs food who is in the best place to provide it? The world is for the most part static as far as land. What is not static is that as urban growth continues it takes farm land and converts it to urban streets of concrete.
Combine this with land that has not been as protected against pollution as our own we see areas of the world having to scramble to find good places to produce crops. Last we know that the most limiting element in crops is water. Fresh water is in high demand everywhere.
So that is table I have set before you in this mind game. While our population domestically is flat the rest of the world is expanding. New lives mean new demands for food. Water is critically short on most regions of the world. Here in the United States we have enormous under used water resources waiting to be put to its most productive usage. If we adapt a much more enlightened public policy that actually encourages agriculture rather than seeks to over regulate it we could see unprecedented growth in our ability to be the world’s bread basket.
The ugly truth is that despite every effort to suppress American farmers they have continued to be successful in delivering record crops. If we had public policy put in place to assist agriculture in labor and production technologies there is no limit to what we could produce. Then once we have the product we establish strong export markets. In short we have the land, water and technology to help feed the planet. We are in the best position to do this over any other country.
So I remain optimistic about agriculture. Food will never be set aside as out dated. Food will never go the route of the chariot. If we as a nation can organize our efforts, I think the future is very bright. We can easily market the crops of 2016 and beyond. We must continue to educate the public and private sectors of the land as to the potential that awaits us. It would be a great tragedy if short sighted public opinions and public policy saw American agriculture be down sized. Opportunity is knocking. The question will be as a nation are we prepared to respond?