Thursday, October 16, 2014

World Food Day 2014: Assessing US Agricultural Risks and Focusing on Family Farms

October 16th is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ designated World Food Day. This event was first celebrated thirty three years ago. The theme for 2014 is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”, drawing global attention to the importance of smallholder farmers. Family farms are key to improving food security and better management of natural resources. As explained by the CGIAR Consortium, "Family farming plays a significant role in reducing poverty and hunger, by providing the household and communities with nutrition rich food and livelihoods."

The resource demands from agriculture are considerable and we will never be able to reign in climate change and transition to a green economy without addressing the issue of food.

The future of agriculture will be challenging. As explained in the Risky Business report, alarming losses are predicted for America's agricultural industry. These concerns represent a salient economic concern for the US and the world.

According to the report climate change may diminish agricultural yields by as much as 73 percent in some states. Some of the most productive agricultural lands will be ravaged by extreme heat, prolonged spring downpours, and widespread and extended drought.

The effect of climate change on agricultural productivity will have staggering economic impacts. One of the areas expected to suffer agriculture declines due to climate change is the Upper Midwest. This area contains more than 520,000 farms which produced nearly $136 billion worth of crops in 2012. More than half (65 percent) of nation's corn and soybeans come from this area.

If we fail to act places like Missouri and Illinois will see average yield losses up to 73 percent by the end of the century. The report also indicates that we can anticipate short-term average yield losses up to 15 percent in the next 5 to 25 years. The Midwest region faces yield declines of up to 19 percent by mid-century and 63 percent by the end of the century.

Family farms can readily adapt to changing weather conditions through agricultural practices such as crop switching and double or triple cropping. Other cropping practices that may help include no-till, cover crops, and riparian and wetland buffers.

We must begin building agricultural resilience to climate change by improving soil health, water quality and protective habitat.

Economic incentives from emerging environmental markets and the greening of the commodity supply chain also provide new opportunities for producers to earn revenue while conserving vulnerable natural resources.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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