All In This Together

By David Schmidt

Reprinted from: Animal Ag

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“We are all in this together!” was the sentence that struck me in the beginning of Dr. Marty Matlock’s, presentation at the 6th annual Biomin World Nutrition Forum (Munich, Germany, November 2014). Dr. Matlock is Director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Arkansas.

I was recently doing some research on Dr. Matlock as he is scheduled to give one of the keynote talks at the Waste to Worth Conference in Seattle from March 30 to April 3, 2015. (Full disclosure, this conference is sponsored by the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and also the home of this AACC project.)

His presentation began by the bold, but maybe obvious statement, that production agriculture, not government, needs to meet the challenge of feeding the world in 2050 (. . . less than 40 years from now).

In an of itself this is a real challenge. He then added the requirement of sustainably achieving this goal with sustainability defined as “Meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” He gave the example of “leaving a little more organic matter in the soil than when you started farming it.” A pretty high bar to be sure!

Because of my role in this AACC project, I sometimes forget about the bigger picture of sustainability. Dr. Matlock’s talk reminded me that a changing climate is just one more challenge agriculture must face in the race to feed the world.

The data he cited indicated that global demand for food, feed and fiber production will increase by 50-100% in the next 40 years. This includes a doubling of meat based protein and milk. He noted that due to water scarcity and technology limitations, some regions will not be able to meet this increase in production which will require other regions to increase production even more!! Again we must do this without increasing agriculture’s environmental footprint (soil loss, water consumption, emissions, land area).

Dr. Matlock’s most recent sustainability work was on Pork’s water footprint (found to be 8.2 gallons of water per 4 oz. of meat). One of the key drivers of pork’s water footprint is feed production (83-93%) with the large variability a function of irrigated or rain fed crops. With all the news about the drought in California and the loss of water in the Ogallala Aquifer, I just can’t help but agree that water scarcity will drive major changes in agriculture and limit production in many regions of the world.

Dr. Matlock’s final focus in his presentation is how we meet these sustainability challenges. He suggests the need to define critical long and short term goals, and set specific and objective targets to meet these goals, and follow up with a specific plan to meet these objectives that can measured and bench marked to make sure we are on track. He uses the term Key Performance Indicators to define this process.

If agriculture’s overarching goal is sustainably feeding the world in 2050 then we all have our work cut out for us. Failure is not an option and we are indeed all in this together.

Always Considering Climate — David

David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Bioysystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate, a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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