Freezing Agriculture’s Footprint

The May issue of the National Geographic magazine has an article titled, “A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World,” by Jonathan Foley.  This article begins an eight month series on the future of food–thoughts, ideas, concerns and facts about how the world’s agriculture industry is going to feed nine billion people by 2050.  This series of articles is supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and members of the National Geographic Society.  You can follow the series and join the conversation at  The next few blogs I’ll do will be comments on the five steps they suggest in this first article.

Step 1:  Freeze agriculture’s footprint

To grow more crops to produce more grains used for human consumption the article states worldwide we’ve cleared an area roughly the size of South America.  This doesn’t include the area of land cleared for grain production to feed livestock–an area roughly the size of Africa.  The amount of land cleared for biofuel production wasn’t included in these land masses.  This means tropical rainforests are being cleared at increasingly alarming rates.  Trading rainforests for farmland is destructive and will have an inreversible negative outcome.  We have to better use the land we’re already farming.

Farmland in our neck of the woods is expensive.  Our farm in Millersburg, just 11 miles east of Columbia, MO, verges on being in a rustic suburb.  This challenges us to better use the land we have.  So we use our cattle and sheep to reduce what we call invasive plants that aren’t edible, reduce the amount of water available for pasture and change the pH level of the soil, making forage harder to grow.  Cattle and sheep managed in our intensive grazing program trample these unwanted plants, discouraging re-seeding and continued growth.  We are also actively eliminating these plants by cutting them down or mowing them off before they seed.

38% of the earth’s ice-free land is used for livestock and crops.  Isn’t this enough?  As you get to know the local producers that provide you with the food you enjoy, be sure to ask them how they’re reducing agriculture’s footprint.  As the article states at the end, “As we steer our grocery carts down the aisles of our supermarkets, the choices we make wil help decide the future.”  Let your choice on how to spend your food dollars support responsible sustainable producers, big and small.  Research the food brands you buy!

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