The 30-Year Challenge

December 3, 2008 06:00 PM

Jeanne Bernick, Farm Journal Crops & Issues Editor
Over the next 30 years, agriculture will be challenged to provide food, fiber and energy to a world population projected to increase by 9 billion people. This is no small challenge, and one that will require dramatic changes in agricultural policy and private industry, says Neilson Conklin, Farm Foundation president.
The Farm Foundation released a report today entitled "The 30-Year Challenge: Agriculture's Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World”, which outlined six broad categories of challenges for agriculture, including global financial markets; food security; energy security; climate change; competition for natural resources and global economic development. For a copy of the report, visit
"A new administration and a new Congress are about to begin their terms, and the world stage is set for new solutions,” said Conklin. "This is a generational opportunity to begin discussions on public policies in the 21st Century.”
That public policy discussion starts with institutional change at the federal spending level, says former Congressman Charlie Stenholm, speaking at a Farm Foundation summit today in Washington D.C. Stenholm and other ag industry leaders were invited to comment on issues outlined in the report.
Budget challenges, for example, are going to be extremely difficult in the year ahead for agriculture, Stenholm said.
"I have to take president-elect Obama at his word when he says every program is going to need to be examined from top to bottom,” Stenholm said. "Congress should spend the first six months looking at every [agriculture] program and whether what we are doing is value added.”
Another monumental challenge for agriculture and public policy is the needed upgrade of our nation's transportation system, said Gene Griffin, director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, who also spoke at the Farm Foundation summit. As the volume of agricultural production and farm inputs rise, and as alternative fuel production increases, the nation's rail, highways and rivers as they stand now will not be able to handle agriculture's transport needs, Griffin said.
"Especially with the biofuels movement taking place, agriculture's transportation patterns are changing dramatically,” Griffin said. North Dakota, for example, is going from a net corn exporter to a net corn importer if they build all the plants on the drawing board, he said.
The tremendous growth crop yields in recent years points to America's confidence in agriculture, but that confidence alone won't put food on the table, added Greg Webb, vice president of government affairs with Archer Daniels Midland Company. "We believe ag processors need to make substantial, across the board investments in infrastructure, to make sure consumers can reap the benefits of higher yields,” Webb said.

You can email Jeanne Bernick at

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