America’s robust agriculture sector provides affordable food and fiber to the nation and still manages to export about a quarter of the food and fiber it produces, but “big, tough, critical issues” loom in the future, according to Nick Place, dean of University of Florida Extension and director of Florida Cooperative Extension.
Addressing Alachua County’s Farm-City Week celebration November 18 at the Paramount Plaza Hotel, Place said the 2 percent of America’s population that farms, feed the other 98 percent and still manage to export 24 percent of their product.
As recently as 1940, one American farmer fed just 19 people. Today, one farmer feeds 155 people who, on average in the U.S., spend just 10 percent of their disposable income on food. In contrast, a family in India spends 51 percent of its income on food.
The Farm-City event, hosted by the University City and Gainesville Kiwanis clubs, Alachua County Cattlemen’s Association and the Alachua County Farm Bureau, brings public officials and community leaders together to celebrate the positive relationships that exist between agricultural producers and their city cousins. By tradition, Farm-City Week is observed the week before Thanksgiving.
Place was tapped in 2012 to lead UF Extension. His appointment coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Morill Land-Grant Act that transformed U.S. agriculture by founding land-grant institutions to offer a liberal, practical education in agriculture and the mechanical arts. In 1914, Congress created the Cooperative Extension Service associated with each U.S. land-grant institution to disseminate information gleaned from university research.
The land-grant university system and Extension have fostered an efficient food and fiber industry in Florida and the U.S., but the food production system faces serious challenges in the future. Many of those challenges stem from the projected growth in the world’s population, from about 7 billion today to 9.9 billion by 2050.
“That’s roughly akin to adding another China to the world,” Place observed.
Food production will have to increase by 70 percent to meet the needs of that population. Not only that, but an expected rise in per capita income in developing nations will mean more demand for protein in the form of meat and dairy products.
Place said that will mean agriculture must become even more efficient, and that will require more research, education and outreach on behalf of universities and Extension. He spoke of the need to engage more young people in the agricultural system, which includes high-tech jobs in technology development, food handling and food processing as well as food and fiber production.
At the university level, Place said the solution will require the engagement of all parts of the University of Florida, including engineering, sciences and health.