Welcome back everyone.
I’m sure by now, most of you have heard the predictions regarding world demand for increased agricultural output across the globe, however you may not actually realise how realistic and overwhelming these projections are. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) have been working extensively to envision where the world of agriculture will be over the coming decades. To put it very briefly, they expect that world food demand will increase by 70% between 2007 and 2050; and going by where we stand in 2020, these figures may well be accurate.
Put your feet up everyone as I explore the ins and outs of what this means for both the globe and us here in Australia. Not only that but how this can even be remotely achievable in a few short decades.
The UN project that global population will rise by 35%, from 6.9billion in 2010 to 9.3billion in 2050, which is actually far slower than it has grown previously. Urbanisation will be one of the biggest influences, as developing countries are being built upon with better resources and more access to the knowledge they need to live fuller lives. With knowledge and resources comes an increase in income. This continual growth in household income will create a shift in diet. Currently, underdeveloped countries have diets that are heavy in what you could call brown foods. Rice, beans and potatoes make up a large bulk of their consumption which is an incredibly nutrient deficient diet. These foods lack the protein, fibre, vitamins and fats that we take for granted. Increase in income will give them greater access to foods such as beef, eggs and dairy. Liberia is a fantastic example. Liberia has one of the lowest agricultural outputs in the world, according to the UN. That, along with low household incomes, has lead to their diets being primarily rice and other starchy vegetables. The middle class of Liberia also consume a lot of fish, however red meats such as beef are very hard to come by and are only found in the wealthiest of households.
We must wonder how this is even a remote possibility. We also need to ponder how to achieve this without exacerbating another problem. So, how can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture? Thankfully, people are becoming more environmentally aware and can make better, greener choices. When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and high rise buildings, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet. To put it into perspective, for every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef. Today only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly; the rest are fed to livestock (about 36 percent) or turned into biofuels and industrial products (roughly 9 percent) according to the National Geographic.
While it will be a challenge regardless, one of the irrefutable options for boosting food availability, tackling waste would be one of the most effective. An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. In wealthier countries most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets. Whereas in underdeveloped countries, food is often lost between the farmer and the market, due to unreliable storage and transportation. Consumers in the developed world could reduce waste by taking such simple steps as serving smaller portions, eating leftovers, and encouraging cafeterias, restaurants, and supermarkets to develop waste-reducing measures. Slower transportation in poor countries understandably leads to food spoilage. They have less access to refrigeration and in many cases are unable to properly store their food.
When you consider food storage in Australia, all the way from kitchen Tupperware to silos, efficiency and effectiveness are paramount to a products success. Our market has access to trustworthy storage, in comparison to many places across the world which cannot access storage at all. With new, innovative technology, such as the HE Silos Thermal Insect Control System™ (TICS™), Australians can optimise their storage and avoid product spoilage. High quality steel, chemicals and fertilisers are readily available and affordable. Pests pose one of the biggest threats to global food storage. Thankfully in Australia, we have access to products that can not only treat infestations but can also aid in preventing them. Our border restrictions are commonly referred to as some of the strictest in the world, and this is to help prevent international problems on home soil. All of the technology we have available, aids us in capitalising on our resources and is the reason we are so well known for the quality of our outputs.
Another consideration is how we as farmers can bridge the yield gap. By this, I mean our potential output vs. actual output. While crop varieties are constantly being researched and improved, there are many more things that can be done to optimise our land and increase output. Precision agriculture is gaining a lot of traction across the globe, and for very good reason! The consensus is the use of technology to control input and in return, increase output. Using modern technology, agriculture can be more environmentally conscious yet maximise yield. GPS is one of the most common and widely used methods of precision farming, ensuring product isn’t wasted and maximising the use of land. Drones are becoming increasingly affordable and more accurate. We are also able to more efficiently ‘map’ a crop. No one paddock will have identical soil from one end to the other. Because of this, certain areas may put out 4 tonnes to the hectare, while other areas only 2t/ha. With a mapped crop, farmers can better distribute fertilisers, seed and chemicals to the hectare, rather than the paddock. Within 20 years, these means of crop and stock monitoring will undoubtedly be the ‘new norm’, particularly in countries such as Australia and the United States. The only thing we can do is embrace the technology and learn how to use it to our advantage.
2050 may sound like a long way down the track.. but it most certainly isn’t. A mere 30 years away, and we sure do have a lot of work to do before then. The prospect of a demand that high can be daunting, but we are already on the right track to making the most of our resources. Technology is becoming increasingly available in poorer countries, and as we speak products are being designed to better manage cost, logistics, maintenance and storage. For example, HE Silo’s Forbes has recently designed what we call a kit silo. These silos are cost effective and can ease logistical stresses.
Regardless of the issues we face, both as a country and globally, we have what we need to keep up with demand. It’s up to all of us to turn the opportunity into success.
Thanks for joining everyone!