How to feed 9.3 billion people


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In the day of the anti-GMO organic food lover, many seem to have forgotten about the benefits of good-old conventional agriculture.

So let me tell you why I love conventional agriculture: it’s going to save the world.

The current world population is over 7.1 billion and that number increases every second, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The United States is the third most populous country in the world, weighing in at a modest 316 million.

Last year around that time, the U.S. population was 313 million. Compared to other countries, we have a relatively slow growth rate, but that will not stop the world population from reaching 9.3 billion in 2050, according to NPR and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Feeding those people is going to be a challenge, and it is a challenge that most farmers and agricultural scientists will be spending the rest of their lives living up to, whether organic or conventional.

The definition of organic food is rather romantic at first look. There are certainly good things about it, but some of its claims fall short of reality.

Often the biggest marketing point of organic food is that it is produced by farmers interested in using renewable resources and conserving soil and water in order to enhance environmental quality for future generations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is not to buy organic, at least when it comes to animal products.

Organic beef cattle, for example, are fed almost exclusively grass hay by 83 percent of organic farmers, according to the Cornucopia Institute. Dairy cows in organic agriculture must obtain 30 percent of their feed from pasture during the grazing season. Only 17 percent of organic farmers finish their cattle in an organic feedlot, which is very similar to the model used by conventional agriculture. It just uses organic grains.

In conventional agriculture, most feedlot cattle are fed diets containing 75 to 90 percent grain. These diets are specially formulated to maximize growth rate and minimize cost of feed by taking advantage of locally grown feedstuffs. Conventional beef often finishes, or goes to be harvested for their meat, sooner than the majority of their organic counterparts.

This is extremely important because cattle that are fed higher amounts of forage, such as grass or hay, produce more methane than grain-fed cattle, according to the Journal of Animal Science.

When you do the math, it means that 83 percent of organic beef cattle are producing more methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, for longer amounts of time than your average conventional beef animal. This certainly contradicts the organic mission statement of enhancing environmental quality.

Compared to organic, conventional agriculture also produces more food on less land, according to the Washington Post and CNN.

For the additional 2.2 billion people living on Earth in 2050, this very quality will provide good nutrition.

Yields from overall organic crops were 25 percent lower than conventionally-produced feedstuffs, but that performance is not uniform, according to CNN. Some legumes, like soybeans, were only 11 percent lower and fruits were only 3 percent lower.

Since organic crops are grown without pesticides, crops that are almost on par with conventional farming show innovative farming techniques that will make it possible to continue feeding the world population.

Unfortunately, organic cereal grains and vegetables have a lot of catching up to do; with yields that are respectively 33 percent and 26 percent lower compared to conventional agriculture, according to the same CNN article, organic leaves much wanting.

In areas like beef production, conventional agriculture has shown to be more environmentally friendly and more efficient, making it a better choice for feeding an ever-expanding population.

Conventional agriculture is going to feed the world, both now and tomorrow.

-Corrine Harris is a senior animal science major from Edmonds. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.