Presented December 11, 2003
National Agricultural Aviators Association
For two decades, an epic war has engulfed society between those who look backward toward a fictional natural past – an organic utopia – and those who look forward through technology and science envisioning a sustainable future. This war has escalated over the last two decades, with each new agricultural advance and technology. While these visions of the future of farming are radically different, the driving force behind these opposing views is amazingly similar: the desire to safely feed and clothe humanity in a way that is environmentally responsible and sustainable.
The organic farming future advocated by so many environmental activist groups would in fact lead to unprecedented ecological damage due to lower yields, organic fertilizer requirements and subsequent conversion of wildlife habitat to farmland. The huge challenge ahead of feeding and clothing the larger, more affluent, and more democratic world of 2050 will require even greater land and resource productivity if we are to avoid destroying the world’s remaining wildlife habitat and biodiversity.
Only through the continued use of modern crop protection chemicals, inputs, and up-to-date crop varieties can we expect to feed all of humanity well without destroying nature.
However, we have recently begun taking a different approach and one that we are asking all of agriculture to adopt and promote: High Yield Conservation. Moreover, we have become much more vocal and active in countering the claims of the eco-extremists and organic farming promoters, who have misled so much of the urban public. But we need your vital help in these efforts.
We must do two important things in this battle over the hearts and minds of consumers. First, me must communicate the seriousness of the global food/environment challenge humanity faces over the next 50 years. Second, we must expose the con of the “organic utopia” that has captivated so many consumers – at least conceptually – if not at the checkout.
Why the Need for High-Yield Conservation: Food Needs-Population and Affluence
The two factors affecting world food demand are population growth and individual income growth. Both are increasing rapidly at the moment.
As the World Bank’s website puts it: “No social phenomenon has attracted more attention in the past half century than the ‘population explosion’-that surge from about 2.5 billion people in 1950 to more than 6 billion in 1999, making the 20th century one of unprecedented population growth. As the number of people grew, the interval for adding another billion people became shorter and shorter, with the increase from 5 billion to 6 billion occurring in only 12 years.”
The world passed the six billion mark in 1999. The world’s overall population growth rate is currently about 1.23 percent per year-adding an additional 80-85 million consumers each year to the global population. That’s another Mexico added to the world’s consumer pool every year or an additional New York City added every month. According to many environmental activists, these currently fast-growing numbers mean we’re headed for a population train wreck. Sooner or later (with a heavy emphasis on sooner) they claim we’ll run out of resources, humanity will starve, and the environment will be destroyed. Their mantra is that we must stop population growth!
But while an additional 85 million people per year may seem daunting, we are far from heading toward a population disaster.
In fact, recent analysis suggest that the world’s peak population will likely be roughly nine billion, perhaps as low as eight billion or less. That means we’re looking at roughly a 50 percent increase over today’s global population added over the next 45 years or so.
The Slowing Population Train
The World Bank projects that the 7 billion mark will be reached around the year 2014. The Bank and the UN have historically overestimated population growth, so the 7 billion mark may actually be reached later. Whatever the exact date, the current period marks the first time since 1800-when the global population reached one billion-that adding the next billion people took longer than the previous billion. From here on out, world population growth will be slower every year until the human population peaks-expected sometime around the year 2050. Then the global population is expected to begin shrinking.
This is a massive change in population projections compared to the wild-eyed predictions of the 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, the UN and World Bank predicted peak global populations of 15-20 billion people-some analysts warned of potential 25 to 30 billion people. In 1968, Dr. Paul Erhlich wrote The Population Bomb, one of the most successful environmental books of all time. Erhlich predicted massive global famines by 1975 as a result of the dawning population explosion. Lester Brown followed closely behind Erlich with his first book, By Bread Alone, in 1974.
So what happened during the intervening period to make Dr. Erhlich and Brown so radically wrong in their population growth predictions? The answer is unprecedented global economic growth that radically reduced the desired family size. It is somewhat counterintuitive, but rich people have smaller families.
Fertility rates are always low in affluent countries. This is because in a developed economy children are just plain expensive. Disposable diapers, NikeÃ¤ sneakers,car insurance, college tuition-I’m sure many of you can attest to exactly how expensive it all is. Women in the workplace mean that things that were previously free, like childcare, become a major household expense.
As a result, women in developed countries now average less than 1.6 children apiece-well below the direct replacement level of 2.1 children per couple (one to replace mom, one to replace dad, and 0.1 to make up for those that die young). Consider Italy and Germany: with a current average of only 1.2 and 1.33 children per couple respectively, they stand to lose half their population over the next 40 years, and nearly 80 percent by 2100. Italy is now paying couples $1,200 to have second and third children-the exact opposite of China’s one-child policy.
In contrast, larger families make economic sense in poor and relatively undeveloped countries. If you are a poor, subsistence farmer, more children mean more cheap helping hands to harvest the crop, gather firewood, haul water, and do the myriad other chores. In the developing world, children are still the equivalent of Social Security, expected to support their parents in their old age. Thus the incentives are toward large families. Another factor: when infant and child death rates are high, as they still unfortunately are in too many areas, the parents must have more children to ensure that one or two of their children will live to provide that social security. Because of all these factors, the average Third World fertility rate in 1960 was 6.5 children per couple.
Today, because of rapid economic growth and rising affluence, fertility rates have plummeted across the globe-most dramatically in formerly poor countries. Compared to less than 1.6 kids per couple in high-income countries, the middle and lower income countries together average only 2.9 births per woman in the period 2000-2005. The global average is now less than 2.7 and falling, meaning that humanity has moved more than 75 percent of the way to a stabilizing fertility rate in only one generation.
Today, the projections for the peak global population are around 9 billion people, reached somewhere about the middle of the century. This is roughly a 50 percent increase above today’s global population. From that point forward, the global population is expected to begin slowly shrinking. Meeting the needs of that peak global population is our challenge, and once that is accomplished, the population monkey will be off our back.
World Food Needs-Affluence
Yet while the population train clearly has its brakes on, the global food demand train is still gaining speed. The reason is, ironically, the same as for the drastic fertility rate decline: economic growth in formerly poor countries. Increased wealth translates into improved dietary quality and higher overall farm product demand.
The GATT, now the World Trade Organization (WTO), has clearly shown itself to be the most successful international institution in human experience. It replaced tariff wars with economic growth. World non-farm trade has increased more than sixteen-fold since 1950, and is still rising.
As a result of the explosion in world trade, nearly 3 billion people in Asia are now living in market-oriented economies that have been increasing their national economic output by nearly 10 percent per year, compounded, since 1980. This economic growth is headlined by Japan, but also includes Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Mauritius, and China. India, Pakistan, and Indonesia havecome a long way as well; although political unrest and regional conflict obviously threaten to stall their economic progress.
As an example of the impacts of economic growth, consider the evolution of the desired consumer goods of the average Chinese citizen. The so-called “precious three” most-coveted and desired household consumer goods in the 1960s and 70s were the bicycle, wristwatch and transistor radio. In the 1980s they became the telephone, television and refrigerator. By the mid-1990s the “precious three” were a cell phone, computer and a car. China is now a member of the World Trade Organization and the prospects for increased economic growth in Asia are so strong that the issue has become a political football for the presidential candidates.
Surging Demand for Better Diets
The first thing that poor people do when they get more income is to bid for better diets. The typical progression is first to buy more rice and wheat-modestly increasing total caloric intake and diversify cereals. Then, they buy more cooking oil-that is, more fried foods. Then, they buy more eggs and diary products.Finally, they purchase more meat, and fresh fruits, and vegetables. These farm products take three to five times as many farming resources to produce as a calorie of cereals – but there is an innate human hunger for them.
The biggest lie from environmental activists is that people in China and other developing countries are only eating more meat because of the advertising of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (the largest Western fast food chain in China). That’s silly. It was poverty that kept meat consumption low and meat demand in Asia has been skyrocketing in lockstep with the rise in personalÂ incomes:
Japan was the first of the Asian tigers, and it has become the first of the Asian meat consumers as well. A country that once consumed less than 15 grams per day of animal protein and felt urgent concern about having fish on the plate, is now at 60 grams per day of meat and dairy products. If Japan did not still have such high tariffs on beef imports, the average Japanese might already eat more than 70 grams of animal protein. The Japanese meat consumption pattern is being emulated in Taiwan.
China, of course, is the huge Asian food challenge, with 1.25 billion people raising their incomes at a speed never before seen in a large, low-income country. China has been raising its meat consumption at 10 percent annually for the past decade, more than doubling its national meat consumption in the 1990s alone. Most of the expansion to date has been pork, but the demand for both beef and poultry have more than doubled and are still growing.
And in addition to meat and high-quality animal protein, these Asian consumers are increasing their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, further increasing domestic farm resource demands.
New Clothes, Beer and Dogs
The other reason why the world must triple farm output is that once we have fed 8 to 9 billion people the way they prefer, we’ll have to satisfy their growing appetites for other farm products. Consumers in these developing countries will want to drink and dress better, too. China’s beer consumption has more than tripled in the last decade. One extra beer per week for 750 million Chinese adults is an extra 3.5 billion gallons of beer consumed in a year! That’s roughly a million tons of grain, folks.
Huge populations of people are moving from societies where everyone owned only two cotton outfits apiece, to a dozen and more-just like any other modern society.
People all over the world are increasingly living in bigger houses, made with additional timber and wood products. Parts of Asia look just like suburban America already, with strip malls and housing subdivisions.
There will even be a pet food challenge. The U.S. has 113 million pet cats and dogs for 270 million people. All over the world, ownership of companion animals and pet food sales rise with incomes. China’s one-child policy is causing people to channel their parenting instincts elsewhere and thereby stimulating pet ownership. It is reasonable to project that China in 2050 will have more than 500 million cats and dogs,translating into significantly increased demand for pet food, which includes meat, grain, and protein meal.
Combining the expected 50% increase in global population with the fact that most of these additional people will live in countries that are radically increasing individual incomes and adopting more affluent food consumption patterns, it is easy to see how overall farm resource demand will at least double, and will more likely triple over the next 45 years.
All in all, the next 30-40 years will see the largest and last surge in global food/farm product demand in human history.
Farmland Scarcity and Competition for Land
Already, the world’s farmers utilize an estimated 37 percent of the planet’s total land area. The UN estimates that humanity farms 11 percent of the total land area in crops, and uses another 26 percent for pasture and rangeland. Thus, farming takes nearly half the planet’s total land area not permanently covered in ice.
What this means is that virtually all of the good, productive farmland is already in production. We started farming the best acres first. What is left is mostly relatively poor potential farmland, where yields would be lower, and environmental consequences higher.
Society now demands other uses for those lands — notably wildlife habitat and biodiversity conservation. In fact, much of the remaining non-farmed land that could be feasibly farmed is also some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Asia is one of the most densely populated areas on the globe, especially in terms of the amount of farmland per person. China has 20 percent of the global population, but only 7 percent of global arable land. Much of China’s farmland is steep and terraced, although reasonably productive.
As a region, Asia in 2050 will have more than half of the global population but less than a third of global farmland. As far as cropland, Asia will be eight times more densely populated per acre of cropland as North America.
The Myth of the Organic Utopia
There is a loud minority of the First World’s population that rejects high-yield farming. They say the world already has plenty of food, that it’s simply a “distribution problem.” But India in 1959 harvested only about 60 million tons of grain. Today, India harvests more than four times that amount, and still reportedly has some 300 million underfed citizens. How many hungry people would India have today if it still produced only 60 million tons of grain per year?
All over the Developed World, government funding for production-oriented agricultural research is being shifted to low-yield, so-called “sustainable” farming. Meanwhile, regulators respond to public opinion by depriving the world’s high-yield farmers of time-tested pesticides and raising the safety hurdles on the remaining pesticides to unjustifiably high levels. After each new set of regulations comes into force, they move the goal line farther away and the process starts all over again.
In Europe, several governments now have official goals for organic to make up 10-20 percent of farmland by 2010, despite the fact that consumer demand has leveled off. Already, something like 60 percent of UK organic milk is sold as non-organic for lack of demand.
Organic farming is the “save the planet” prescription offered by almost every major so-called environmental group in the world. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, The Sierra Club, Environmental Defense: All of these groups and scores of others tell the urban public that organic farming is the solution to the worlds food and environmental problems. But it is not.
Organic farming cannot possibly meet humanity’s food needs without massive destruction of wildlife habitats – mainly to convert them manure and other organic fertilizer production.
In terms of nitrogen needs alone, and only in terms of today’s food needs let alone the needs of the larger and more affluent society of tomorrow, an organic mandate would require a massive conversion of land into animal pasture or “green manure” crop production. Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that the billion-plus of tons of manure produced annually by U.S. livestock and poultry provide less than one-third of the organic biomass needed to support current farm output, let alone a three-fold increase by 2050.
Globally, the organic fertilizer shortage is worse. The world’s farmers currently use roughly 80 million metric tons of synthetic N fertilizer per year, much of this on cropland, but some on pasture land as well. To replace the 80 million tons of “synthetic” N fertilizer with animal manure would require an additional 6-8 billion cattle.
The entire world cattle population is only about 1.2 billion, so this would be a 600% increase. Where would we “park” that many additional bovines? At the relatively dense stocking rate of only 2 acres per animal -inadequate in most regions – that works out to an additional 18-22 million square miles, or 40-45 percent of the planet’s entire land area!
Of course, manure isn’t the only organic nitrogen source. We could use green-manure crops: Legumes that fix nitrogen via the bacteria in their roots. But the land area needed to grow enough of those would still be huge.
In 1999, a high-level technical committee appointed by the Danish government studied the consequences of a total conversion of Denmark to organic farming. The Bichel Committee was headed by the former president of the Danish Society for the Conservation of Nature and staffed by the best scientists and agronomists using the latest yield data.
The committee found that if Denmark went totally organic with no feed imports and no synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, human food production would fall by 47 percent! Why? Partly because of lower crop yields and partly because many acres of food crops would need to be converted to livestock fodder for manure production.
Organic farming was supposedly developed to avoid “soil poisoning” from inorganic fertilizers. However, long-term studies (more than 100 years at the Rothamsted research plots in England’s temperate climate and 20 years in the International Rice Research Institute’s tropic Philippine climate) show no difference in soil quality between fields fertilized with organic nitrogen and those getting synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Thus, the very basis of organic farming has been proven false. (That’s not to say organic matter content isn’t important, but that there are other ways to increase and maintain soil organic matter than solely the use of “organic” fertilizers.)
Organic Yields Too Low
The organic farming activists claim that they get yields nearly equal to non-organic farmers. But we know that isn’t true, especially when assessed on a “whole-farm” basis (i.e. including the land needed to produce the organic fertilizer).
Direct field-to-field yield comparisons show that organic methods produce between 10-40 percent less than non-organic methods when using identical varieties grown side-by-side. Of the truly peer-reviewed studies I’ve found, organic methods averaged about 15 percent lower in corn yields, 11 percent lower in soybeans yields and 30 percent lower in potato yields. Moreover, even the studies cited by organic supporters seem to indicate yield penalties of at least 20 percent. A recent 21-year Swiss study published in the Journal Science found that organic yields averaged between 10 and 40 percent less, depending on the crop, for a total average of 20 percent lower yields. Their potato yields averaged 40 percent lower over the full 21 year experiment.
Pesticide Use Under All Organic Scenario
Organic activists lie to the public and claim organic farming doesn’t use pesticides. But the first pesticides used by humans were “organic.” Reports of the use of sulfur as a pesticide date back 3,000 years to 1000 B.C., when Homer described how Odysseus “fumigated the hall, house, and court with burning sulfur to control pests.” Nicotine from tobacco was first used as an organic insecticide in 1690 to protect pears from insects. Pyrethrum was first used to kill body lice on people in the early 1800s.
There is a widespread organic myth that the “pesticide era” of agriculture did not begin until after World War II. In reality, the pesticide era began prior to the civil war. Pyrethrum was in regular use as an agricultural pesticide by the 1850s. Farmers were widely using nicotine- and arsenic-based pesticides by the late 1800s. By 1886, the US was importing over 600,000 pounds of pyrethrum annually for farm use.
By 1934, U.S farmers were annually using: 70 million pounds of sulfur, 10 million pounds of pyrethrum, 2 million pounds of nicotine sulfate, and 1.5 million pounds of rotenone. That’s more than 80 million pounds of organic pesticides being used each year. Imports of organic pyrethrum to the United States peaked in 1939 at 13.5 million pounds.
Organic farmers still use pyrethrum. You should know that in 1999 the EPA reclassified organic pyrethrum as a “likely human carcinogen.” This is a label that organic activists have used to argue for permanent bans on scores of synthetic pesticides. But rather than warn their chemo-phobic customers and the public about the EPA’s conclusions, organic activists kept a lid on the scientific findings for two full years. I didn’t find out about the reclassification until asked to comment on it by an obscure Washington news outlet.
Nicotine sulfate use peaked in the 1940s and 50s at about 5 million pounds per year. Cheaper, safer, and more effective synthetic pesticides developed during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s displaced nicotine sulfate. DDT, for example, was very effective against insects, but far less toxic to humans. (Nicotine sulfate is 4000% more accutely toxic to mammals than DDT! )
In fact, if we went 100 percent organic, our overall pesticide use could very well increase, not go down. Why? Because the organic pesticides must be applied at high rates.
Three organically-approved pesticides – oil, sulfur, and copper – accounted for a whopping 62 percent of the total pounds of insecticides and fungicides applied to U.S. crops in 1997.
Replacing all synthetic fungicides with sulfur would require an additional 840 million pounds of sulfur, or more than a 700 percent increase in total U.S. fungicide use!
Replacing synthetic fungicides with copper would require more than 100 million additional pounds of copper, a 50 percent increase in overall fungicide use. The environmental impacts from this increased copper use would be huge. Yet crop losses from fungal diseases would be far higher, as both copper and sulfur are less effective than synthetic fungicides.
Organic Food Safety?
Would this increase safety, consumers ask? The organic activists sure want them to think that. But consider that just last month, the UK’s Food Standards Authority tested 30 cornmeal products from store shelves for residues of a carcinogenic fungal toxin called fumonisin. The European Union has a new safety standard of 500 parts per billion for fumonisin. Of the ten products found to be in violation, 6 were organic. That was every organic corn product tested. The others were from Turkey. But the organic products were hugely contaminated, with two brands having fumonisin levels 1/3 those that have been proven to cause cancer in rodents.
Meanwhile, they’re scaring consumers over pesticide traces that are tiny fractions of doses proven to cause no harm in any animal.
21st Century Human Society is the Most Sustainable Ever
Roman citizens worried about soil erosion and declining farm yields nearly two thousand years ago. They had good reason to worry. Soil erosion has always been the most vulnerable aspect of human society.
Fortunately, modern farmers have invented conservation tillage, which cuts erosion by up to 90 percent and encourages far more earthworms and subsoil bacteria. Organic farmers refuse to use conservation tillage, because it relies on herbicides to control weeds; thus the organic farmers are forced to used bare-earth, erosion-inviting weed control techniques like plowing and hoeing. Plowing also destroys the feeding tubes of the mychorrizal fungi which produce the most important element of soil health: a recently-discovered gooey glycoprotein called glomalin. (Again, organic farmers fail to support their claims of better soil health.)
Thanks to the combination of industrial fertilizer and conservation tillage, a highly erodable farming area in Wisconsin is today suffering only 6 percent as much erosion as it did during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. The author of that study says those who claim high rates of U.S. soil erosion today “owe us the physical evidence.” We are creating topsoil faster than we are losing it on millions of hectares across America, Canada, Europe, Latin America, Australia, and most recently, in Asia.
Two Competing Development Models – Palaces or Mud Huts?
The key question in the Environmental Age is not whether we will save the environment, but how best to save it. Society now puts a higher priority on saving the environment than anything save protecting its children and pets. But two radically different models are being presented for achieving these unprecedented goals of sustainable economic development and environmentally-benign agricultural expansion.
One model for the 21st century – the technological abundance model – would have the global society becoming still more affluent, with a far more sustainable society, creating more high-value jobs on both its farms and in its cities. That model would also have American agriculture provide far more profitable food exports for densely populated Asian countries that would otherwise have to clear species-rich tropical forests to eat well.
The Palace model wants to create new resources through research, clean the air through low-emission cars and power plants, and give every kid on the planet access to a computer and the Internet. It wants to protect wild forests and feed more people from existing farmland through high-yield farming. The Mud Hut model for the 21st century would cut humanity’s farm output in half, and shifted society’s jobs back toward low-tech and low pay.
The Mud Hut strategy is based on getting humans to want less, either through lowering our lifestyles, and/or through having fewer humans on the earth. The “use less” believers think people should eat vegetarian diets, grow their food organically, and ride only busses, trolleys, and bicycles. These opponents of materialism don’t think humans need corporations, shopping malls, or global trade. They want us to have simpler jobs, such as hoeing weeds in organic fields, or hand-sewing leather sandals.
But all of this is wishful thinking. It is a denial of the real wants and needs of poor people and a denial of the current reality: where poor people denied access to technology and capital have ravaged local environments and habitats to satisfy their basic needs.
Defending High-Yield Conservation and Technological Abundance
In April 2002, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the world was offered a practical vision of how we could save the world’s forests and wildlife in the more populous and more affluent world of the 21st century. Two Nobel Peace Prize winners, a co-founder of Greenpeace, and the British author of the Gaia Hypothesis all signed the Center for Global Food Issues’ “Declaration in Support of Protecting Nature with High-Yield Farming and Forestry.”
They pointed out that the world is already farming one-third of its land area, even though we are now feeding high-quality, resource-intensive diets to less than 1 billion people. By 2050, the trends indicate that at least 7 billion people may be able to afford and demand such diets. We’ll need to triple farm output.
The Declaration signers also noted that high-yield farming has saved at least 12 million square miles of forests and wildlands since 1950. That’s how much more land we’d have plowed to get today’s food supply if we still got the low crop yields of the 1950s, before the Green Revolution and the widespread use of modern crop inputs. (For perspective, the world’s total forest area is 16 million square miles.)
This Declaration has now been signed by nearly 1,000 scientists and conservationists from more than 60 countries around the globe. We need to amplify their call and support their cause.
For generations, farmers were considered the community’s most admirable citizens- because they produced food, the most important element of life. That
was back when farmers didn’t have high-yield technology, and food was often scarce.
In the modern world, food is abundant. Since people tend to define unhappiness in terms of what they don’t have, farmers are no longer admired.
The opportunity for North American farmers is growing with the population and affluence of Asia. It’s the last best opportunity and the biggest obstacle to access that opportunity may well be the fears and suspicions of affluent, farm-ignorant, wildlife-loving urban consumers.
But you are part of the greatest conservation effort in human history – at the forefront of conserving wildlife habitat. Therefore, you have the tools to convince those consumers that your industry is critical to habitat and environmental conservation – that they should support your efforts. But only if you speak up, as an industry, but more importantly as individuals.
Start tomorrow, by joining the Nobel Prize winners, founder of Greenpeace, and others in signing the High-Yield Conservation Declaration.