Conservation Key To Future Food Production

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As a rational hedge against the possibility of technological lag or failure, I most strongly believe everything possible should be done to conserve and enhance our rangelands and farmlands.

JERRY HOLECHEK

NEW MEXICO STATE UNIVERSITY

During the past century, food production in the United States has achieved a remarkable degree of efficiency and the cost of food has remained low, but some of the conditions that made such a system possible are changing. Rising human population, water shortages, and depletion of fossil fuels all threaten current food production systems. In short, the era of cheap food may well be coming to an end.

A recent article in the journal Rangelands, a publication of the Society for Range Management, explores changing conditions likely to affect U. S. food production, particularly on American rangelands. Decades of cheap oil have led to cheap grain, which has been fed to cattle in an increasingly consolidated animal production system. As fossil fuels become more scarce and prices increase, range operators that rely less on cheap oil and cheap grain may be able to adapt to changes.

Other forces that are likely to influence meat production are growing demand for humanely raised animals; potentially inflationary monetary policies that may stimulate U. S. meat exports; and renewed appreciation for the nation’s rangelands. Grasslands used for raising livestock have been devalued by conditions of the past few decades.

“Both privately and publicly owned rangeland came to be viewed by political leaders and the public as disposable resources because it was thought that our meat could be efficiently produced with harvested feed or imported,” writes author Jerry Holechek of New Mexico State University. “As a rational hedge against the possibility of technological lag or failure, I most strongly believe everything possible should be done to conserve and enhance our rangelands and farmlands so they will meet the basic needs of a world with ever more people (70 million per year), but with shrinking energy, water, and agricultural land resources.”

Historically, other factors have influenced the American farm economy as well, including: gains in technological efficiency, global climate patterns, U. S. policy toward the monetary supply and interest rates and conversion of U. S. grain into ethanol.

Though many questions about the future of agriculture remain unanswered, it is important to discuss such questions and prepare for coming changes that will affect our ability to produce food for a growing population.

Full text of the article, “Range Livestock Production, Food, and the Future: A Perspective,” is available at www2.allenpress.com/pdf/1551-501X-31.6.pdf.

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