It is not possible to attend a farm show or ag conference without hearing that the Earth’s population is going to blow well past nine billion by 2050.
That staggering number has driven much of the excitement around agriculture over the last four years — ever since the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization presented that forecast.
If you have any salt on the table, don’t just take out a grain. Sprinkle it liberally all over the much-discussed FAO number.
It will be a major discussion point in 2014 because of the massive 2013 harvest enjoyed in many parts of the world, including Western Canada. Suddenly, the big yields we’ve been told are necessary to feed the exploding population began to seem real.
Then the crops got stuck at the farmgate and at the elevator. The infrastructure couldn’t handle it. The question has to be asked: is the system ready for the new reality? Or was this year an anomaly?
It may have been, but let’s face it — better yields are what everyone, from scientists to seed companies to farmers, have been striving for. It couldn’t have come as a surprise that with a little grin from Mother Nature, everything finally came together in one big, glorious harvest. There are likely more to come.
That’s good news, but care must still be taken before making management decisions based on the FAO’s prediction.
Lend an ear to grain strategist Ray Wyse of S.W.A.T. LLC, who told the 2013 DTN Ag Summit in Chicago that the forecast is deeply flawed and wildly wide. He is right. The FAO forecast population range was between six and 16 billion people.
“That’s a pretty good range,” he said at the summit. “You could drive a truck through that.”
Add to that the bizarre consequences of China’s one-child policy. People aged 15 to 24 in that nation will make up perhaps 10.5 percent of the population by 2050 — down from 18 percent in 1995. We’re talking fewer young people having fewer babies, and many older people eating less food, to put it baldly.
Perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and really evaluate the drivers of tomorrow. There will be more mouths to feed, absolutely. But will there be nine billion? Wyse words say, possibly not.