The global population continues to change in many ways.
First, our world is getting more crowded. In 1850, there were 1 billion people in the world. Three billion in 1960. Seven billion in 2010. And by 2050 there will be 9 billion.
Second, people continue to move around. Our cities are getting bigger, with a majority of the world’s population now living in urban areas. In 1900 only 13 percent lived in cities. Today, in the United States, only 16 percent of people live in rural areas.
The remaining 84 percent of Americans who live in the cities and suburbs are pretty much cut off from their primary source of food: farmers. We tend to forget the importance of agriculture in our daily lives and the lives of others in the world. We take our food for granted, rarely seeing past our local grocery store and the occasional green market and butcher shop.
Fortunately others are taking care of this important business.
Cutting-edge universities like Ohio State, University of Nebraska, University of Illinois, and Kansas State University have drawn a sharp focus on programs in food production, environmental quality and sustainability, advanced bioenergy, bio-based products, agribusiness entrepreneurship, meat research, and food processing.
Legislators are also part of this effort. David Heineman, governor of Nebraska and chairman of the National Governors Association, has pledged to underscore the growth and importance of needed research in agriculture across the country.
These smart people understand that what’s good for their constituents is also good for the world. They know that the United States plays a leading role in feeding not only our own country but other countries as well.
In fact, we are the world’s largest agricultural exporter. One out of three American acres is planted for export. Forty five percent or our wheat goes oversees, 34 percent of our soybeans, and more than 60 percent of our sunflower oil. Furthermore, mostly due to cutting-edge research, our producers have the lowest production costs in the world.
E. Gordon Gee, president of the Ohio State University, says agricultural trade with developing nations will grow in the coming decades as population, incomes and food demands grow faster than in developed countries.
“We will be limited only by a lack of creativity, and increased agricultural research is essential to the future of Ohio and other Midwestern states,” Gee says. “It represents economic opportunity — jobs — for many people.”
James B. Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska, notes that “consumers in developing countries will choose different foods as their incomes rise, moving from staples to more meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Helping to ensure availability of more and better food, reasonable prices and jobs will depend in significant part on university research.”
But strong agriculture also is good for localities.
“Agriculture research produces jobs that carry good salaries,” Gee argues. “Agriculture has been rediscovered by the public, its elected leaders and economists. … Modern day agriculture means new and improved jobs in research, jobs that are certain to grow in numbers and in importance.”
These jobs are needed in rural America right now. They will keep more young people from having to move away from their place of birth and choice, and keep our country in a position to feed itself and the world for years to come.