An expected spike in Georgia's population by 2030 means a greater need for those in agriculture to work towards the solution of a basic dilemma: ensuring our state has plenty to eat.
University of Georgia Dean of College of Agriculture and Environmental Science Dr. Sam Pardue spoke at the annual Farm City Breakfast, hosted by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the Hall County Cooperative Extension, and talked about how the agriculture community, business community and students interested in agriculture can be part of the solution.
Pardue showed some statistics about how much food we'll need as a nation by 2030 as well as how, despite food security, we are actually better off food-wise than several generations ago. He said there is 25 percent less farmland since 1950 in the nation, but we are still managing to feed more mouths, with 16 times the agriculture labor productivity in the past 60 years.
He also said Georgia should see an additional 4.6 million people in the population from 2010 to 2030. "I'm confident if we want have peace in the world, we're going to have to learn how to feed those people," Pardue said about the global population. "There are a lot of things people will put up with. They will not tolerate for very long seeing their children hungry."
But, growth isn't equally distributed in the U.S. Pardue said we need to find ways to grown other regions of the state outside of metro-Atlanta, especially the estimated 4.6 million. "We need to find some ways to grow other regions of the state," he said.
The poultry industry has seen some of the production perks, Pardue said, with broiler chicken performance improving. He said the chickens had a very noticeable change in weight since 1925, due to the use of population genetics on farms. "Back in 1925 it took four months to get a broiler to market weight - and it was a pretty skinny chicken too - today, we've more than cut that in half. People ask me all the time 'what do you feed them to make them grow so fast? And I say, 'they have a big mama and big daddy.' Population genetics."
Cow milk production is also up and Pardue said the state is second in cotton production, only behind Texas, with yields increasing five times since 1940.
The farming future is in our children but it can also be in our business leaders. Referencing a scene from The Graduate ("I've just got one word for you: plastics."), Pardue said the water industry is a place to look, since water is required both to live and to produce food. Droughts, like the ones North Georgia residents can visibly seen at popular destinations like Lake Lanier, prove to us how valuable the water industry it. "I don't know about the future of plastics, but I do know there's a great future in water. There will come a day when water will be more valuable than petroleum. The food that we eat, we're simply transferring water from wherever that food was grown to where we're eating it. But water, in my mind, is the key to the next decade in productivity."
As for the future with children, the Future Farmers of America and 4-H groups stood at project displays around the room before and after the breakfast. Topics ranged from equestrian science to horticulture to agriculture technology and even sports. Programs at the schools include animal science and mechanics at North Hall High; horticulture at East Hall High and also the middle school and Lanier Charter Career Academy has an agriculture mechanics program.
"Agriculture is the number one economic driver in the state of Georgia, it's about $87 billion annually when you look at... all of what we say encompasses ag. I hope they'll help us be part of the solution going forward," Pardue told AccessWDUN after the talk. "We need more plant breeders, scientists that are going to help create that next generation of technology. I'm convinced technology is going to be the way in which we're going to be able to feed those nine billion people."
When asked about food deserts (when access to fresh foods are unavailable, mostly in urban areas, and consumers shop mostly at gas station or convenience stores) Pardue said, while consumers in those areas are starting to gain access to things like farmer's markets, more needs to be done to get fresh food to consumers. "It takes a willingness, I think, on large food chains to move in to an area where, historically, they've not been."
Lastly, Pardue said while we're building the future of agriculture, we need to remember how lucky we are. "We have an appreciation for the abundance of food we have in the U.S. It's the safest, lowest-cost, available year-round. We're really, really fortunate and we shouldn't take it for granted."