As the common ground shrinks, so does the funding essential for public agricultural research. Ponder for a moment where the cattle business would be today without the intensive research conducted by land grant universities, and the practical outcome of that research delivered to producers via extension.

“Constraints in the world’s ability to feed all its people include land availability, water supply, technology challenges, climate, energy availability and cost, food waste and losses, food safety and government policy. These constraints, therefore, put the onus on animal agriculture to increase efficiency,” explain authors of the NIAA white paper.

After all, agriculture’s massive increase in production with less labor and fewer inputs has had plenty to do with new technology and adoption.

“By 2050, global agricultural demand is projected to grow by 70-100 percent due to population growth, energy demands, and higher incomes in developing countries,” according to Public Agricultural Research Spending and Future U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth: Scenarios for 2010-2050,published by ERS. “Meeting this demand with existing agricultural resources will require raising global agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) by a similar level. Maintaining the U.S. contribution to global food supply would also require a similar rise in U.S. agricultural TFP.”


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With that in mind, ERS analysts explain that TFP growth in U.S. agriculture is dependent on long term investment in public agricultural research. TFP growth for U.S. agriculture has averaged about 1.5 percent over the last 50 years, they say.

“ERS simulations indicate that if U.S. public agricultural R&D spending remains constant (in nominal terms) until 2050, the annual rate of agricultural TFP growth will fall to under 0.75 percent and U.S. agricultural output will increase only 40 percent by 2050. Under this scenario, raising output beyond this level would require bringing more land, labor, capital, materials, and other resources into production,” say the ERS analysts. “Additional public agricultural R&D spending would raise U.S. agricultural productivity and output growth. Raising R&D spending by 3.73 percent annually (offsetting the historical rate of inflation in research costs) would increase U.S. agricultural output by 73 percent by 2050. Raising R&D spending by 4.73 percent per year (1 percent annual growth in inflation-adjusted spending) would increase output by 83 percent by 2050.”

So, ignorance or its solution will determine cattle and agricultural producers’ ability to harness increased efficiency and feed the world’s growing, more economically prosperous population.

“Implications of a decline in the long term growth rate in U.S. agricultural productivity are significant for both the United States and the world,” say the ERS analysts. “Slower productivity growth will likely cause agricultural prices to rise, which would reduce global economic welfare and raise poverty in urban areas and among food-deficit rural households, especially in developing countries. Rising prices would also increase pressure to expand agricultural cropland at home and abroad and input use on cropland would likely intensify. Such agricultural resource expansion and intensification could come with significant environmental costs, such as further impairment of soil and water quality, loss of biodiversity, and increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Finally, agricultural exports may also decline as U.S. farmers lose competitiveness in international markets.”

“While new technology will require heavily investing in agricultural research and development, today’s federal government is lessening its financial support of agricultural research and development that addresses efficiency-improving technology related to practices, products and genetics,” say authors of the NIAA white paper.

Ignorance, indeed, comes at a high price.


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