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Published October 12, 2010, 10:05 AM

Knight: Six megatrends affect livestock’s future

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Bruce Knight, a former undersecretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory programs and former chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, offered those attending the recent Livestock Biotech Summit a list of “megatrends” that will affect livestock production, worldwide in the next several years:

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Bruce Knight, a former undersecretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory programs and former chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, offered those attending the recent Livestock Biotech Summit a list of “megatrends” that will affect livestock production, worldwide in the next several years:

Concentration: There is no signal that further concentration is going to slow down, driven in part by the economy, and that more animals are tightly held by fewer hands.

Efficiency: The industry continues to become more efficient in feed production and food production.

Population: Human population is continuing to grow, worldwide, demanding more food production.

Sustainability: This “movement” has gone “mainstream” in the past 20 years. Corporate America, including the Wal-Marts and McDonalds of the market, are signaling that agricultural processes must be more environmentally friendly, which may have impacts on efficiency.

Animal care and husbandry: Parts of the agricultural community are squaring off with entities like the Humane Society of the United States, and others.

“Both sides are itching for a fight on animal care and husbandry,” says Knight, a rancher from Gann Valley, S.D., but warns that agriculture must be careful because “social megatrends are shifting on farmers.”

“You’ve got to look carefully how you manage through those changes,” Knight says, noting that the industry will be “gauged by the lowest common denominator.”

He suggests “strong stewardship programs” to maintain trust.

“I think we as farmers need to be comfortable about talking about our commitment to the stewardship of resources,” he says.

n The “foodie” movement: This is the continuing development of fast-growing organic markets and other niche markets for people who can afford it, which will go along with “highly productive and efficient markets” for most consumers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is embracing this phenomenon with its “Know Your Farmer” program. These niche markets are important in the U.S. and in Europe, but much smaller in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico and “nonexistent” in the developing world, Knight says.

“The developing world needs the North American model of production agriculture to secure adequate food stocks,” he says.

Knight notes that the livestock industry itself must be careful about promulgating some of its own problems through its own product marketing programs.

“Society wants to attribute human emotions to animals,” Knight says, because the urban person’s most direct connection to animals is as pets. “We in agriculture do the same thing. We flip on TV and see advertisements about California’s ‘happy cows.’ We’ve sold milk, but we’ve conveyed a human emotion to the cow that the cow does not have.”

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