Challenge and opportunity

ST. PAUL -- I recently participated in a conference where one speaker stated that in 50 years, the world will need 100 percent more food to feed the world, and 70 percent of this food must come from efficiency and improved technology.

ST. PAUL -- I recently participated in a conference where one speaker stated that in 50 years, the world will need 100 percent more food to feed the world, and 70 percent of this food must come from efficiency and improved technology.

If those numbers are accurate, farmers need to continue their production of good, high-quality food, but we also need to take advantage of the impending new economy right in front of us.

In agriculture, the old economy may indeed be the new economy.

Perfect storm

During the University of Minnesota conference, it was stated that by 2030, we will have a perfect storm in which the demand for food, water and energy will outstrip the supply. For farmers, this presents us with both a challenge and an opportunity to create a new economy based on our ability to feed the world, protect water and land resources, and provide energy.


We only can meet this challenge and this opportunity if we seize the moment to adopt new technologies and use our creativity in food production.

Farmers always have been the stewards of land and water, those precious resources necessary for high-quality and quantity food production. Now, we will see a new demand for conservation of water, which will come about both in policy discussions and adoption and in real life practice.

This perfect storm -- made more complicated by the ever-increasing world population, means that farmers and rural areas now must look at real answers and real solutions to meet the needs this storm places in our path.

Food, energy demands

The new economy will demand an independent domestic food supply for the United States and a robust export economy to feed the world.

In the energy aspect of this new economy, we have taken steps to address the need with biomass, solar, wind, ethanol and biofuels. These, too, must have a solid independent supply for domestic use and a potential for export as well.

The United States has a large rural land base and a significant farmer base to provide these critical resources of food and energy for this new economy. At the same time, we will be charged with an increased guardianship and stewardship for water resources. It will mean new technology development and implementation and, potentially, new growing, cropping and harvesting systems. It may demand the creation of new jobs, underpinned by the conservation of water and increasingly sustainable and measurable energy production.

Moving toward this new rural and agricultural economy requires investment at both the public and private levels. Much of the groundwork to do this already has been created in past congressional farm and energy legislation with biofuels, wind and the Renewable Electricity Standard and Renewable Fuels Standard requirements.


Rural foundations

Our rural areas are the foundation of this new economy. It will take hard work, and cooperation and leadership, from everyone --elected leaders, landowners, conservationists, all of us. We each have a role to play to bring this new economy to maturity.

To succeed, there will be requirements on how we produce the energy; how we conserve and protect water; and how we grow and produce food. These requirements must be science-based, and common sense-based, forged and developed in transparency and open dialogue and debate. While moving toward a new economy with a new jobs model may test the patience and dedication of all involved, it is not only worth it, it may be our only choice.

As farmers and rural people, we must insist on being at the table as this new economy evolves. Independent farmers and rural citizens should control the direction of food production, energy and water conservation.

The bottom line is that we as farmers will do our part. We always have done so. That is why the new economy -- with its dependence on the full and active participation of the agricultural sector -- will look a lot like previous economies: It will be food-based, water- and land- protection-based, with the participation of rural people. It will succeed because in the end, we farmers will do our part.

Without full farmer and rural participation, we would just have production without profit, production without protection, production at the expense of a socially and financially disadvantaged rural area and a failing economy.

To have a real, new, rural agricultural economy means we will take the reins. We will insist on helping create and drive this new economy, and we will, as the Minnesota Farmers Union, fight for the economic interests and quality of life for family farmers and rural communities.

Editor's Note: Peterson, of Madison, Minn., is the Minnesota Farmers Union president.

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