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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

Cow/Calf Weekly has these comments from a recent speech by Jason Clay. “Here’s the thing. Whatever is acceptable today as an impact (on the environment) with 6.8 billion people is not going to be acceptable when we get to 9.1 billion people. Everything is going to have to be more efficient and we’re going to have to get better with the way we use land, with the way we use water, with other inputs.”

That’s what Jason Clay, senior vice president of market transformation with the World Wildlife Fund, told a group of cattlemen recently. Clay laid out a series of questions and observations about how beef producers and environmentalists can attain pragmatic solutions to the challenge of producing twice as much food by 2050 as the planet now produces.

According to Clay, around 70% of the land available worldwide for food production is being used. “For the last 40 years, we’ve been increasing ag land by 0.4%/year. In the last 10 years, that’s gone up to 0.6% a year. If you do the math, by 2050 at 0.6% a year, times 40 years, that’s 24% of the remaining 30% of the planet that will either be farmed or ranched. There will be very little room for biodiversity, very little room for the ecosystem services we depend on.”

Clay thinks the modern-day land grab can be slowed and maybe even stopped, by increasing the intensification and efficiency of agricultural production.

“How does beef relate to this issue?” he asked. “Beef production uses 60% of all the land today that’s used on the planet to produce food. And it produces 1.3% of the calories. Is beef production ever going to be the same as (crop production)? No. But can it be better? Absolutely.”

Clay would like to see a world where we don’t convert more natural habitat to food production. “We think we can produce more on what we’ve already got.”

In fact, he says the better producers globally are already producing 100 times more at a global level than the worst producers, for any given commodity. “The better countries are 10 times better in production than the worst countries. And even within a country, some producers are three to four to five times better than the worst producers. So there’s a lot to be gained by increased efficiency.”

In his book, he wrote that sustainable agriculture will require that ranchers and farmers be rewarded for producing not just food or fiber but also “ecosystem services.” Clay explained that comment saying,  “It’s clean water and clean air for sure. But it’s also biodiversity that is useful for both farmers in terms of seeds and seed traits and genetic material that can be used in plant breeding and also good for crop pollinators as well. Today, farmers are not paid for any of these services. Since farming and ranching occupy more of the planet than anything else, it’s important that these types of land use sustain the planet for all living things.”

He also said, “So even increasing productivity won’t necessarily help the people who can’t afford to buy food right now, and food is probably undervalued in the sense that the impacts of producing food at this time aren’t actually reflected in the price. So, habitat loss, soil erosion, global climate change, etc. aren’t reflected in the price of a loaf of bread or a pound of sugar, flour, or whatever.”

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