/The Covid Pivot: 10 Pressing Questions About the Future of U.S. Agriculture

The Covid Pivot: 10 Pressing Questions About the Future of U.S. Agriculture

Editor’s Notice: Jim Budzynski is An extfinished-time frifinish of Meister Media, a member of our Tempo Advisory Council, and renpersonaled assumeer on The biggest method forward for the agritradition worth chain. Jim submitted The subsequent perspective piece reflecting on the events of the previous 18 months, and what we as an enterprise Ought to be Eager about Inside the months and yrs forward. A pair of of the questions posed right here wunproperly be central to the discussions we wunproperly work together in On the Tempo Authorities Discussion board in Kansas Metropolis this coming October. I encourage you To current feedagain and ideas On to myself or The author. Take pleasure in! – Paul Schrimpf

The previous yr has been a doozy. Being locked up for a yr and watching half One munproperlyion People die was traumatizing. In In all probability the Best agricultural relyry On the earth, munproperlyions Of people lined up for meals And a lot of People died as a Outcome of Covid preferentially assaults Individuals with pre-current circumstances like weight problems, Hypertension, diaguesses, and coronary heart illness.

As a mortal, Covid jolted me Proper into a heightened sense of My very personal mortality and Outcomeed in food regimen and practice modifications that much lessened my vulnperiodbility. However as a strategist, this “Covid intime periodission” acquired me pondering what position American agritradition Might have performed in all this and wright here We’re headed. I concluded that U.S. agritradition reprimarys extremely weak and method overdue for A mannequin new strategic plan. We’d like a “Covid Pivot” to a extra sustainable agritradition that broadly assists each Our environment and the well being of our residents.

I even Want to share 10 questions That Can be thought-about “kindling wooden” To assist start the bonfire of debate over wright here U.S. agritradition Ought to be heading. I do not declare to have the options, but maybe That is typically A great starting itemizing of questions.

Our Place Inside the World

1. Worldwide Commerce and China. In some strategies the U.S. ag mannequin has not modified in 240 yrs – a “mercantiitemizing” system assembleed round rising crops and livestock and promoteing grains and protein Throughout the globe. We subscribed to the “Ricardian effectivity mannequin” That every relyry should produce whOn They will produce least costly, use whOn they need, and promote The reprimarying to completely differents. In The primary century of this relyry, global agricultural trade was furtherly pushed by an urgency to levperiodge the Mississippi River system and shortly populate “the west” (right now’s corn belt) wright hereas the British and the French have been distracted. Grains and oilseeds moved biggest dpersonal the river. The catch with the Ricardian mannequin is that it starts To interrupt dpersonal when producers (even the U.S.) manipulate their currencies, trash their environment, abuse their laborers, or start a wrestle (trade or completely differentwise). Truthful trade requires all halfies to trade pretty. Covid extremelighted how “comparative benefit” Might Even be environment nice Inside the brief time period but are finally unsustainable, wright hereas furtherly exposing the fragility and risks of sizey global current chains. Have you ever noticed the spike in meals safety considperiodtions and the push by relyries to primarytain away from depfinishence on overseas agricultural commodities? How Regarding the 100% rise Inside The worth of corn over the previous 12 months? America’ No. 1 agricultural buyer by far May even be our largest strategic competitor, China. While they break all data on buying for American corn and soybeans, They’re furtherly articulating An extfinished-time period plan to scale again depfinishence on imports. Are we guessting that China wunproperly fail in executing their plan? Wunproperly our China gross sales be Okay (And even good) right up till They do not Appear to be? What’s “Plan B” Inside the event of a extremely possible disruption in Chinese language agricultural trade?

2. Commodity Focus. The U.S. strategy to ag manufacturing was For many U.S. farmers To current uncompletely differentiated commodities and have completely differents (global grain retailers, mannequined meals corporations, bio-power corporations) profitably promote or convert these uncooked supplies into “worth-added” merchandise. This method Seems to be fraying. Have you ever noticed how “direct to shopper” meals and meat merchandise expert explosive progress By way of the Covid-19 pandemic? How wunproperly this enhancement disrupt established gamers and channels, and what alternatives wunproperly that create? We now Want to encourage The event of scalable worth-added performs That are mointernetarily worthwright hereas for all sizes of farm enterprises in each area of curiosity and extreme acreage crops. For event, think about A mannequin new U.S. textile enterprise based mostly on synthetic intelligence (AI), robotics, and inexpert know-how that could energize U.S. cotton’s worth (and acreage) And permit us to buy a competitively worthd pair of homeally made blue denims (using pure plant origin pure dyes) with out questioning whether or not right now’s “slave labor” was involved. (At a minimal, if we get Proper into a deeper trade wrestle in Asia, we wunproperly not Want to stroll round with out pants.) The world Might be A very completely different place in 10 yrs. How can we construct a homeally focused worth-added method for American agritradition Rather than reprimarying focused on low-value commodity manufacturing?

3. Geographic Cas quickly asntration. This is our personal “intra-U.S.” Ricardian mannequin. Why are apples grpersonal in Washington, potatoes in Idaho, and corn in Indiana? Local climate is An factor, However in addition particularization To diminish prices, consolidate extreme quality assurance and course ofing infrastructure, and have A a lot hugeger “global commodity footprint”. The duncooked again of this cas quickly asntration is enhanced vulnperiodbility – think about all these events (earlier than citrus inexperting) that orange juice prices spiked Because of a freeze in Florida. If We look again to the Nineteen Forties, most every Midwest farm had a few apple or pevery timber and a vegetable backyard. We will develop A lot of crops in A lot of places — I currently study that researchers are evaluating rising espresso beans in Florida! Native farm markets, farm-to-market eating, And greater demand for pure manufacturing are all displaying us that local current Might be currenter and extra resilient. The drive To assemble vertical farming and “brief And native” current chains for perishables (And in addition tackle meals deserts) Should understand Much extra traction. These markets are furtherly focused on “complete meals” That do not require consolidated mega-course ofing amenities. Covid may imply we have reveryed The peak of geographic crop cas quickly asntration and that re-diversification Might Even be undermethod. Can we develop scalable completely differentiated crops and varieties tailopurple to local climates and construct extra diversified local farm opperiodtions That are not hostage to a single commodity worth?

4. Subsidies and Checkoffs. Why Can we stunproperly have subsidies for crops like corn? What does a “U.S. subsidy” even imply in a globally worthd commodity? Crop subsidies Do not implyingabsolutely enhance our stability of trade — in a $20 trunproperlyion U.S. financial system, U.S. meals exports of $130 B are 0.6% of the U.S. financial system and internet meals exports of $10 B are exactly a rounding error. Ought to U.S. ag covperiodge decide commodity winners and losers? Economics 101 says something you subsidize is overproduced relative to a free market. By that measure, We’re overproducing corn/corn syrup, soybeans (acreage rivals), pork, beef, and ethanol relative to a free market. Equally, commodity checkoffs encourage “siloes” of particular person commodities driving consumption of “their” commodity to overseas and home eatrs And typically Discover your self as primarily a subsidy to meals entrepreneurs. In 2020, ag subsidies have been over 40% of internet farm income – farmers are very proficient at producing what U.S. farm covperiodge subsidizes. Ought to U.S. farm covperiodge search to (inenvironment nicely) manipulate global grain prices for home goals? Ought to we re-align subsidies much less round a few commodity crops and extra on desipurple societal or environmental Outcomes – extra healthful food regimens, crop rotation, soil conservation, and constructing gooder crop variety?

How We Opperiodte

5. Scale and Monotradition. This one is a legacy from WWII. America saved the world through our industrial may Inside the final world wrestle. In the tradition of the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, it was understandable that industrial diploma scale was our focus, notably given our global commodity trade focus. In the early Nineteen Seventies, Dr. Earl Howeverz, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Agritradition, implopurple farmers to “get huge or get out” and plant corn “fencerow to fencerow”; we have been off to the races. As with the corn subsidy, It is not altogether clear who benefits from scale. While particular person (huger) farmers Might Even be greater off, it Is strong to argue that Tons of the dying small farm cities dotting the Midwest would agree. Out of the 220 munproperlyion crop acres Inside the U.S., absolutely 87% of them are in solely three crops – corn, soybeans, and wheat. Productiveness and effectivity are good, but our obsessive Consider rising huge acreages of Simply a few crops has robbed us of variety and will enhance our vulnperiodbility (each organicly and economically). Ought to we think about broadening our definition of U.S. agricultural success past being The worldwide low-value producer of #2 yellow corn?

6. Enter Trait GMOs. It is time to ask whether or not as an enterprise we placeed An extreme quantity of Consider “input GMOs”. Bioknow-how has huge potential for enhancing human, crop, and animal well being; in hindsight, it seems unproperly-suggested to levperiodge all that horsepower primarily Inside the service of just promoteing one chemical or ancompletely different. More ominously, input trait GMOs accelperiodted “monotradition ag” immeasurably by completely differentially enhancing crop economics (income). The disbenefit with a monotradition is that it currents A nice huge goal for resistance enhancement, and we have been in a battle with bugs and weeds more and more Resistant to input GMOs For As sizey Since They’ve been round. Given the rising public againlash as quickly as extrast input GMOs and the relyries like Mexico who Not Want To buy our corn even for animal feed, it seems logical to ask whether or not the period of input GMOs is coming to an finish and ponder the implications for the strategies and focus of our enterprise. Is it time to make the most of bioknow-how extra aggressively in attaining broader societal goals Than merely getting extra environment nice (And huger)?

7. Sustainability. In all probability the most disappointing Outcome of our obsession with scale is the demise of the crop rotation. Once I used to be a lad of 12 or 13, I used to wander All through the place Inside the Midwest sampling soil with my crop advisor father. I might lie Inside the deep inexpert grass of a roadside ditch ready for my journey and marvel On the hundreds of butterflies, moths, and fascinating crops. Exit in a area right now. No butterflies or moths. No crops (besides maybe glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth). No ditch anyextra both Since the over-the-prime spray drift Way again perioddicated any vegetation, and Yearly The sector’s edge creeps outwrestleds. We aren’t just planting fencerow to fencerow, as Earl Howeverz would say – We’re planting roadside to roadside. The internet have an effect on is much less organic variety, extra soil erosion, and finally much less healthful soils. I study a current report that used satellite tv for pc imagery to show that 24%-46% of the primesoil has been misplaced Inside the Midwest over the previous 50 yrs – “carbon acrelying” wunproperly lay naked the detailed extent of this loss. We now have acknowledged for 100 yrs that monotraditions Aren’t good for soil fertility, buffer zones and grass waterstrategies scale again erosion, and that chemical fertilizers should complement pretty than absolutely substitute pure crop residues. As Sir Albert Howrestled famously said in The Soil and Health in 1945, “The exact arsenal of democracy is a fertile soil”. As an enterprise, we must wrestle with the sustainability of our extreme productivity practices, particularly since climate change is more and more mandating a current Take A look at optimum varieties/crops, biggest water administration practices, and The good “ag footprint” for The Long time period. Why are we depleting our useful soil assets and what must we do to adapt our methods in response to climate change?

8. Ethanol & Biodiesel. The world is slowly shifting to various power sources and electrification, particularly in transportation. Tesla is Not a “one-off” phenomenon — GM currently introduced plans to half out gasoline And Lightweight diesel engines by 2035 and obtain carbon neutrality by 2040. However U.S. agritradition seems closely invested in liquid transportation gasolines, with 35% of the corn crop and 6% of soybeans going into this market. Is power The very biggest and biggest use of our useful agricultural manufacturing belongings? Ought to We start to repurpose that 40 munproperlyion acres earlier than Everyone seems to be driving An electrical car? Wunproperly corn ethanol and soy biodiesel be gasolineing automobiles in 20 yrs? What completely different “inexpert chemical compounds” could we produce That are extra useful and sustainable? This transition wunproperly be far much less painful if the enterprise drives it (pretty than will get pushed by it). Ought to the ag enterprise be re-assumeing manufacturing of liquid transportation gasoline components Since the optimum use of our farmland?

Agritradition-Food-Health Linkages

9. American Health and American Food. Covid-19 has laid naked the continuous well being factors Of usa residents – and weight problems, diaguesses, Heart problems, and Hypertension ppurpleispose people to dangerous Covid Outcomes. Tright here’s nothing like an acute illness made properly riskier by pre-current continuous illnesss To start out us all assumeing in A particular method about well being. I could write at size about what I’ve found about meals and vitamin Prior to now yr but suffice it to say thOn tright here At the second are 35 yrs of accumulating proof that unstabilityd U.S. food regimens are The primary problem driving The enlargement of weight problems and associated continuous illnesss. While particular person shopper selection Is important, Furtherextra it Is apparent thOn the meals enterprise’s Consider extremely worthwhile However in addition extremely course ofed meals contribute to this problem. You Wantn’t look any further than The huge proportion of meals merchandise made with closely course ofed corn/soy/wheat to disprove the notion that our food regimenary factors are 100% about eatrs making dangerous decisions. In my quest for a extra healthful food regimen, I acquired here To understand how incpurpleibly troublesome We typically make it for eatrs To Seek out healthful meals. For event, the significance of a stabilityd food regimen of omega-3 and omega-6 fats has been ignopurple and resisted by the course ofed meals enterprise, as omega-3 fats are the enemy of shelf stability. Sadly, this disbenefit Is method worse for The backside income Individuals who find themselves much less More probably to eat (or Be In a place to afford) greater extreme quality (stabilityd) food regimens. While the American meals current Might be very protected, the American food regimen Might be very unprotected. Is it time To imagine past whether or not A particular person meals is protected And start Eager about whether or not the stability of meals we eat is healthful (and the covperiodge implications for U.S. agritradition)?

10. Meat and Protein. We use Tons of our corn and soybean manufacturing to assist animal agritradition – 36 munproperlyion acres of corn and 22 munproperlyion acres of beans. We furtherly eat An extreme quantity of (omega-6 fat rich and omega-3 fat poor) corn- and soy-fed purple meat. We now Have not solely shifted our human consuming habits to a seed-rich (omega-6) food regimen and amethod from leaf-rich (omega-3) food regimen, but we have carried out The identical for our animals, compounding the disbenefit. After Tons of scientific studying, When it Includes meats, this food regimenary fat imstability Might be extra important than saturated fats and ldl cholesterol in driving food regimen-pushed illnesss. If we previousupurple cows as quickly as extra (or A minimal of fed them omega-3 rich feeds like flax or hemp meal) We’d dramatically enhance the well beinginess of animal protein. Really, all these cows and pigs have A huge ozone footprint as properly, and the Quantity of start-ups Which will “develop” meat Inside the lab is accelperiodting. I currently Look at an Israeli startup Which will 3D print ribeye steaks! In case You are a livestock producer, And even Only a corn and soybean producer, This may make you uncomfortable. So far, The converse Seems to be about whether or not this know-how wunproperly displace 2% or 40% of the meat market. Are we wunproperlying to guess thOn these wunproperly be area of curiosity merchandise? The huger question is what wunproperly happen as meals scientists and biotechnologists accelperiodte the “meat various movement” from environmentally benign (but course of-intensive) facsimile meats to dramatically enhanced meals (e.g., a scrumptious omega-3-rich “ribeye” with no saturated fats). Is it potential that protein manufacturing practices and food regimenary modifications (thOn the U.S. meals and agricultural industries have typically resisted) wunproperly be carried out by agri-meals start-ups (upstarts?) whose objective Is Simply to current The client whOn They need? How can we make animal protein manufacturing each sustainable for the plainternet and healthful for eatrs?

The good much lesson of Covid is that life Is short-term and the time To behave is now. The global government response to Covid (huge stimulus) coupled with current chain nightmares Is clearly making its method Proper into ag commodity prices and Making a singular alternative to make the modifications we need. It is within that vein that I supply these questions on what U.S. agritradition Should assume about Ultimately. (See Desk 1 under for An in depth abstract of The conventional ag “narrative”, our potential “blind spots”, And a few “inexpert shoots” that Might Even be pointing The tactic to U.S. agritradition’s future.)

I Might be incorrect (or loopy), but I am not an “outsider” – I am a proud life-sizey aggie whose solely objective is To place U.S. agritradition on the most sustainable path potential, which For my half requires three problems: a) strong and fixed farm diploma profitability with out distorting subsidies; b) an environmentally sustainable And guarded global meals current; and c) vital further Consider enhancing American eatrs’ well being.

I think about The Long time period trajectory of U.S. agricultural covperiodge should pivot To deal with gaps that Many people deep dpersonal know we need to get fixed. U.S. agritradition is An monumental ship and turning it too abruptly could capsize the boat. However we must start turning this ship in a extra sustainable course faster than We’re shifting right now. Covid-19 Might Even be offering the impetus To maneuver us extra shortly in A mannequin new course. Ought ton’t we take administration Of making The biggest method forward for American agritradition Instead Of getting completely differents and painful market forces do it for us?


Dr. Jim Budzynski is the Managing Principal of MacroGain Companions, a Carmel, IN consulting agency focused on serving to agri-meals corporations develop enterprise strategies To rearrange for The Long time period. Dr. Budzynski Might be reveryed by e-mail at [e-mail protected]. See all author tales right here.