Sustainable agriculture is key to feeding a growing (and hungry) population

July 11, 2011 | 10:07 am

Whew, nothing like 12 hours in a minivan to bring out the best in a family. We drove from Wichita to San Antonio for our much-needed summer vacation. The girls have been dreaming of petting dolphins and meeting a killer whale named Shamu. Sea World was our vacation destination and the most economical way of getting there was driving. I like driving, although less than 12 hours is more desirable.Driving is an opportunity to glimpse at the world around us. We always curse the busy bumper-to-bumper city traffic and are inspired by the wide open spaces between each metropolitan city. I like to take note of the agriculture we pass by. In route to San Antonio, we saw gorgeous fields of Kansas sunflowers, newly harvested Oklahoma wheat fields, and maturing cotton fields in Texas.

I think about each farm family whose livelihood rests on the success of that field. They continually improve their farming practices to be more efficient, conservative, and sustainable. Did you know that in 1960 one farm family produced enough food to feed 26 people? Today, each farm family feeds 155! With precise nutrient management, state of the art technology and improved genetics, farmers are feeding more people on less land.

When considering all of the water and land on planet Earth, a very small percentage can actually be used for food production. I recently heard a staggering statement, “America is losing more than an acre of farm and ranch land every minute to development.”  To make it personal, the housing development I live in was built on farm ground. Prior to ten years ago, our lot was planted to wheat year after year by a local farmer. From 1982 to 2007, the U.S. population grew by 30 percent. During the same time period, developed land increased 57 percent. More facts to support the statement can be read on the American Farmland Trust webpage.

When invited to an elementary school to speak, I use the Earth Apple demonstration to show how little of the soil on earth is suitable for farming. I found this video that puts the demonstration into motion.

Click to view video: The World As An Apple

When my parents were born in the 1940’s, the world population was at 2.5 billion. When I was born in the 1970’s it was at 3.7 billion, and when my kids were born in the 21st century, it was at 6 billion. With the increase in that span of time, and the decrease in farm land, it is easy to see that farmers have to make sustainable decisions in order to feed us all.

Next time you are driving across country (hopefully not with the whines of a 9, 4, and 2-year old-little girl), take special interest in the farmland around you. It may not be there the next time you drive through.