Speaker Lauds Farm Technology

1/25/2014 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent

HARRINGTON, Del. — Technology may be the silver bullet to feed a hungry world with a soaring population.

That technology, however, often flies in the face of public perception of agriculture, according to Jayson Lusk, an Oklahoma State University professor, who spoke at the Jan. 14 banquet of the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware.

Lusk is the author of a book titled “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto to the Politics of Your Plate.”

Lusk said that many people have an idealized vision of the family farm. That romanticized vision of a Norman Rockwell lifestyle may be at odds with modern agriculture.

He said consumers sometimes associate modern technology with genetically engineered crops, mass- produced poultry, additive-laced foods and even so-called “factory farms.”

But that technology, even with its drawbacks, has also produced the safest, most consistent, most reliable and cheapest food in the world, he said.

Lusk said the world has 7 billion people, already a lot of mouths to feed, and a number that is expected to rise considerably. He estimates 1 billion people are already starving, creating what he called “a really pressing challenge.”

So, how does a growing world feed itself? Lusk said there are number of options: population control, better distribution of existing food, finding more land to put into food production. But he thinks technology may offer the best solution.

“I’m a big proponent of technology,” he said.

Lusk said farmers need to do a better job of telling their stories and letting the public know that while the Norman Rockwell vision may seem idyllic, it could mean importing food or rising prices.

“Food prices that they enjoy may come about from things they don’t particularly like,” he said.

He suggested that farmers be open and transparent with the public and make sure consumers are aware of choices so that the public is more aware of the benefits of technology.

Farmers need to do a better job of showing the positive side of technology, he said.

“Get in the game,” he suggested. “Tell your story.”

We are spending less money on food, living longer and enjoying more leisure time than ever before, in part because of modern technology and modern agriculture, he said.

He added that corn yields have increased 440 percent in the last century, and during that time, life expectancy for an American has gone from 47 years to just over 70 years of age.

Lusk said statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that between 1996 and 2012, food related outbreaks of salmonella dropped by 4 percent; E. coli outbreaks were down 30 percent; and the number of listeria outbreaks fell 42 percent.

Americans are now spending 40 percent less time on food preparation and 81 percent less time on cleanup, Lusk said.

“If that doesn’t sound good to you, I suggest you go talk to your grandmother,” he said. “That is a marvel and a wonder.”

And he remains optimistic that America’s ranchers and farmers will find a way to continue to increase productivity and feed a hungry world.

“And I say let’s just get out of their way,” he said.

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