By Steve Graybeal
Pennsylvania Dairy Farmer and Member of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Sustainability Council
It was my privilege to attend an event hosted by The Washington Post and Slate magazine today. The Future of Food: Food Security in the 21st Century was co-sponsored by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Key public figures, policy makers and others came here to discuss the challenges of producing and distributing healthy and affordable food to all Americans.
Since I’m a dairy farmer, two statistics really brought this challenge home to me:
- The projection for the global population is 9 billion people by 2050
- Also by 2050, global milk demand is estimated to be 2 trillion pounds of fresh milk per year
The “real challenge” becomes how to dramatically increase food production in a sustainable way – a way that reliably feeds the world population while preserving the natural resources of our planet. That’s sustainability in a nutshell.
A sustainable solution depends on innovation and increased productivity, including the use of technology. We need to keep finding ways to do more with less. As Chris Policinski, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, said today, “It’s not just growing things, it’s growing things productively.”
This also means that we are going to need many different agricultural techniques and business models.
So I was pleased to hear about a new project announced by Dr. Jason Clay of World Wildlife Fund. Working with the Innovation Center, they will convene a blue ribbon task force that includes leading experts in the field of food security from academic institutions, governmental and nongovernmental organizations. The goal is to explore the role of different agricultural models – big farms, small farms, organic farms, conventional farms, and so forth — in meeting the food security challenge. Representatives from the agricultural sector and the dairy industry will help lead the dialogue.
Dr. Clay said that no single model is best, and that no single model alone is sufficient to meet this challenge. He said that all models can work in combination with the best practices and innovations that are right for each operation. I like that.
You may not be familiar with World Wildlife Fund. I wasn’t either before I got involved with the Innovation Center’s Sustainability Council. WWF is the largest independent global conservation organization, and through the Innovation Center, farmers have had a three-year partnership with the organization. WWF understands the importance of science and technology and they helped us with the research study we needed to set the record straight on dairy’s carbon footprint in the U.S.
That same study, conducted for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, showed that best practices matter more than the size or type of farm operation.
Today’s event was part of a broader dairy initiative to work with credible partners in nutrition and sustainability to inform key thought leaders about dairy’s heritage of doing more with less. Consumers, too, need to understand how far we have come, that we are committed to improve, and that when farmers use the knowledge and tools that are right for their operation, they are practicing sustainable dairying.
I think we are on the right path.