Part of my role as a partner in Understanding Ag is to keeping up to date on the trends in agriculture, staying abreast of what is “new” in agriculture—and what the industry and investors are focused on. I spend a lot of my time talking to the boards of directors of food and agriculture companies, attending events where they congregate to share the “latest and greatest.”
Recently, I attended such a gathering where I was asked to sit on a panel discussion titled, “The future of food.” I found the comments from the other panelists and attendees very interesting. Here were their most prominent views:
1.) We must produce more food on fewer acres to feed an ever-growing population.
2.) Agriculture, as we know it, is killing us because it is accelerating climate change.
3.) Cattle are evil. We must stop eating beef and dairy and instead consume “plant-based” proteins. This is necessary to “save the planet” and our own health.
4.) Meat made from plants is the answer.
It will come as no surprise that I take exception to these statements and here’s why:
1.) We already produce more than enough food to feed the world. The latest published figures show that we produce enough food to feed 10.2 billion people. There are approximately 7.8 billion people on this planet. Is a 24% excess not enough? And this only takes into consideration reported food production. Most of the food produced in the world is done so on farms that are fewer than 10 acres in size, the production from which goes largely unreported.
2.) Yes, some forms of agriculture are accelerating climate change. Extensive tillage and the excessive use of synthetics (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides), along with monoculture cropping systems, accelerate the degradation of our resources. However, farms and ranches using regenerative principles are accomplishing just the opposite. By increasing diversity and integrating livestock, they are taking massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil where it will be cycled.
3.) The problem is not the cow, it is the how. When we take grazing ruminants off the landscape, it leads to a degradation of that landscape. Estimates are that there were up to 60 million bison roaming the great plains, pre-European settlement. Add to this the numbers of elk, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and other ruminants and you have a total that approximates the 125 million ruminants we have grazing this continent today. If ruminants are the cause of climate change, which many believe that they are, then why were the ruminants that grazed this continent centuries ago not causing climate change?
4.) I believe that we should all eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, dairy and pastured proteins. But to think that a diet should omit meat and dairy without having negative consequences does not make sense.
How did we get this so wrong? Why do we ignore the fact that nutrient-dense food must be based on soil or the oceans and lakes?
By using a mass-spectrometer, which has the ability to identify over 2,000 different phytonutrient compounds, researchers Stephan VanVleit, Ph.D., Fred Provenza, Ph.D. and Scott Kronberg, Ph.D., have discovered that the phytonutrients in food is directly related to soil health and the biology within that soil. Their research also shows that animals grazing diverse plant species have the widest array of those phytonutrients in their proteins.
It just makes sense, because grazing animals are the original “plant-based” meats. Every one of us should take the soil health -plant health- animal health-human health connection into consideration when selecting our diets.
If, as farmers and ranchers, we focus on what is best for the ecosystem, we will also be focusing on what is best for human health. We have a human-health crisis taking place worldwide and we need to realize that food can, and should be, our preventative medicine. For this to happen, we MUST practice regenerative agriculture.
So, what is the future of food? It’s impossible to know definitively, but one thing I do know is that the way we grow our food must follow nature’s principles in order to heal ecosystem function and ourselves.
The 19th Century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” The “illusions” reflected in the misperceptions of the panelists I referred to previously, underscore the need for regenerative agriculture—and a greater understanding of its many benefits.
The future of food lies with nature. Nature is always, self-organizing, self-regulating and self-healing. We just need to be smart enough (and patient enough) to let her do so.