This is a good news story.
With the fall harvest underway across the nation’s Midwest “breadbasket,” early U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting predicts record-setting corn and soybean crops for 2018. The corn crop will be above average for a record sixth year in a row, while soybean production is projected at an all-time high of 4.4 billion bushels, up 4 percent from last year’s previous record.
U.S. corn, soybean, wheat, and even rice crops look to continue a trend of remarkable growth in both productivity and output. This year, corn may yield arecord 178.4 bushels per acre nationwide. If realized, this will be the highest yield on record for the United States. Soybean yields will likely be up 2.5 bushels from 2017, which surprised grain-trading experts and exceeded even the highest private yield estimate. Wheat yields (for all varieties) are forecast to increase 1.1 bushels from last year, and the 2018-19 U.S. rice crop is projected at 210.9 million cwt, down less than 1 percent from an earlier forecast but 18 percent larger than a year earlier. America’s farmers will once again help feed a hungry planet that presently has more than 7.6 billion inhabitants and may reach 8.6 billion by 2030.
Global agricultural trends reflect gains as well. Since 2002, world production of four major crops – corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans – has grown by 846 million tons or 48%. Yields have kept pace with the world’s annual population growth rate of 1%. In fact, prices for staple grain crops reveal a downside to those abundances, such that plentiful supply depresses commodity prices on world markets. “There is too much corn,” said one analyst, to match demand. Corn- and soybean-growers now concern themselves with consumption of previous record-setting crops to promote future market price increases.
These blessed abundances occur in an environment where Americans are fed a steady diet of dire predictions of climate change with its presumption of human-caused global warming. Scientists tell us that weather phenomena like the extremes of storms, drought, wind, heat, and rainfall will be more frequent and intense. Add pestilence, pollution, fires, and the encroachment of human activity to other natural calamities, and one wonders just how the American farmer can survive to produce and even prosper.
Instead, the American farmer continually adapts to the climate – and weather – through changes in crop rotations, planting times, genetic selection, fertilizer choices, improved equipment, innovation, pest and water management, and shifts in areas of crop production, among other possible measures. Farmers take advantage of an unmatched system of education, research, science, and technology in American universities and business that has evolved to aid and support American agriculture. Farmers also make good use of a responsive agri-business banking and finance system. On whole, American farmers are part of, and benefit from, a well honed agricultural infrastructure that fosters advances in production and efficiency.
By contrast, in just one global example, Africa, despite vast natural resources, including expanses of arable land, has the world’s highest incidence of undernourishment (estimated at near one in four persons). It is assessed that more than 60% of the planet’s available and unexploited cropland is located in sub-Saharan Africa, yet agricultural production remains dismal, which further undermines Africa’s future and economic growth. Africa must import food staples valued at some $25 billion annually, largely because continental food production, supply, and consumption systems do not function optimally.
Why? Consider that no nation on that continent can provide its farmers the needed political and societal stability to support a similarly developed agricultural infrastructure. The examples of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia and once Africa’s breadbasket) and Sudan are illustrative of the entire continent’s challenges.
Zimbabwe has Africa’s most fertile farmland, yet, as a recent exposé explained, “a onetime net exporter of maize, cotton, beef, tobacco, roses, and sugarcane,” Zimbabwe now “exports only its educated professionals,” who fled by the thousands from decades of corrupt autocratic rule. In Sudan, only 16% of available land had been cultivated by 2009 – the majority of which now falls within South Sudan, a “new” country that must still import nearly all its food.
Imagine the possibilities if African farmers could bring to bear similar resourcefulness, science, technology, finance, know-how, entrepreneurship, and work ethic to what the American farmer possesses. What if Africa’s arable and unexploited croplands were farmed to similar standards as those in the American Midwest and production raised to the optimal – and sustainable – levels they are capable of?
It is not climate change, weather phenomena, human encroachment, or other natural calamities that pose the greatest threats to future generations. Humans adapt to their environment and can adjust the agricultural enterprise to feed the people. The real global threat is poor, non-functioning governance, and more precisely, autocratic, dictatorial, corrupt regimes not acting for the common good of the governed. Poor governance has worsened more people’s lives – made more people go hungry – than anything extreme weather, pests, or climate change will ever do. That is the national security concern; that is the threat to global agriculture and food production.
When offering thanks for our blessings before coming holiday meals, remember and appreciate America’s farmers for their achievements we all too often take for granted.
Colonel Chris J. Krisinger, USAF (ret.), was raised in a Midwest farming community. During his Air Force career, Colonel Krisinger served in policy advisory positions at the Pentagon and twice at the Department of State. He was also a national defense fellow at Harvard University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.