Sunday, September 21, 2014

SCHLAGECK: Agriculture is up to the task

By JOHN SCHLAGECK, Kansas Farm Bureau | 10/24/2013

The end of agriculture in America is near. American agriculture will soon lose its competitive edge.

So say some agricultural opponents.

They also think the high costs of producing food in America, compared with the costs in other countries, are pushing American producers out of business as foreign competitors develop enough to serve the same markets. Overseas producers with lower input costs will increasingly be able to undersell American producers.

Other major factors that will change the face of American agriculture include energy shortages, exhausted land and limited water resources.

Opponents of today’s agriculture suggest stripping away the romance and nostalgia surrounding agriculture and seeing it for what it is – a business. They argue it’s a business with limited potential for long-term profits because of its competitive nature.

Look at the big picture, they say. The whole world can produce crops in 2013.

Are these startling new revelations or are they predictions of those totally out of touch with the business of farming and ranching?

Critics of American agriculture contend that crop yields will not keep up with population growth. Some predict by the year 2050, arable American farmland will decrease nearly 200 million acres.

They also say water will become more scarce, forcing a shift of farming to regions where rainfall is plentiful. Marginal rainfall regions like the western half of Kansas, eastern Colorado and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas may be destined to revert to grassland or the Great American Desert.

Should this happen, the United States will cease to be a food exporter. Our new diet will contain less meat and dairy products, more grains and beans and a sparser variety of vegetables.

It is difficult for farmers and ranchers to stomach such predictions when American agriculture remains the envy of the world.

There is no doubt agriculture, like the rest of the U.S. economy, will continue to face challenges. True, this country is already impacted by higher input costs, dwindling avenues of trade and the constant wrath of Mother Nature.

In spite of these challenges, farmers and ranchers remain dedicated to staying on the land and continuing in their chosen vocation. They, better than anyone, understand the land they depend on for their livelihood is finite.

Care for this critical resource continues to improve. Today’s farmers are increasing their organic matter in the soil. With the continuing practice of no-till and reduced tillage farming, farmers continue to build organic matter and improve the soil tilth. There is no reason to consider this practice will be discontinued.

New and improved crop varieties are continually coming down the pike. Production practices continue to evolve and improve.

As for the question of water, this always is a major concern in farm and ranch country. Producers constantly chart rainfall amounts and monitor weather conditions. In Kansas, farmers are aware of changes in the Ogallala Aquifer.

They are tuned into water and the conservation of this vital resource. Some, especially in the western half of the state are concerned about the potential of long-term climate change. If such a phenomenon should occur, there is the possibility Kansas could become more arid – more like New Mexico, for example.

Barring a major shift in our climate, crops will continue to be planted in western Kansas. Production could be less than now, but this land will be farmed and farmed wisely.

Without question, today’s crop of agricultural detractors raises some interesting possibilities. But American agriculture is up to the task. This country has the minds, machinery and dedication to continue producing for people around the globe.

John Schlageck is a Farm Bureau commentator, specializing in agriculture and rural Kansas.

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