The changing face of global agriculture

April 13, 2010|By JEFF SEMLER

Regular readers of this column know that agriculture is a vocation, an avocation and a passion of mine.

And while it is often on my mind, it also seems to cross the pages of many puplications that you might not think pay any attention to agriculture, such as Time magazine, The New York Times newspaper, Science Daily, Popular Science and The London Telegraph.

One such headline showed up in Science Daily recently that read "Report finds radical change needed for global agriculture." As I read the details and researched the article, I was intrigued. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"A report to be released at a pivotal global meeting on agriculture finds that transforming the agriculture agenda to meet the challenges of a warmer, environmentally-degraded world of 9 billion people will require changes as radical as those that occurred during industrial and agricultural revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries."


Then the next day after the above article appeared, other items hit the newsstands that seemed to be contradictory. One headline read, "Now it's CowGate: expert report says claims of livestock causing global warming are false."

The London Telegraph article continued:

"It is becoming difficult to keep pace with the speed at which the global warming scam is now unraveling. The latest reversal of scientific 'consensus' is on livestock and the meat trade is a major cause of global warming - causing one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to eco-vegetarian cranks. Now a scientific report delivered to the American Chemical Society says it is nonsense. The Washington Times has called it "Cowgate."

At the same time, volcanic eruptions in Iceland were creating seismic activity worldwide. Why? This particular volcano tends to be the opening act for its sister, Kalta, a larger volcano. When it erupts, it tends to cool the globe. According to the National Weather Service, Kalta's eruption in 1783 led to the winter of 1784 being the longest and coldest on record for North America. Reports say the Mississippi River froze in New Orleans, crop production fell in Europe and famine spread.

Consequently, it looks like the planet is just as dynamic as we thought and while mankind can and does affect the climate, this restless orb might have the last word.

Not to worry, though. Agriculture is the most resilient and adaptive industry I know.

Take our own county for instance - at one time, we were a bread basket. Our major crop was wheat. The wheat was then milled into flour, hence all of the road names around here that include the word mill.

Today our major row crop is corn and our leading commodity is milk. We have changed as society and demands have changed.

And while agriculture can and in my mind will keep up with global demand, food supply and food security are not synonymous. We currently grow enough food to feed the world's population, but that does not mean there is no hunger. Hunger and starvation is the product of poverty, poor infrastructure, politics and tyrants, and not necessarily in that order.

Whether you are a farmer or not, agriculture is involved in nearly every part of your life. So as you see your neighbors spreading manure, planting their seed, and later, harvesting, remember a portion of your next meal is dependent on them.

Until next time, enjoy the renewal of spring.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at">

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