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World-Changing Forces

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Well-known member
Feb 14, 2005
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Southern SD
For the week of May 9, 2005
World-Changing Forces Impact Farmers
By Stewart Truelsen

Someone once said that the future doesn't come up behind you and tap you on the shoulder – it hits you right between the eyes. Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to predict what the future will hold. The best we can really expect from futurists and other prognosticators is that they identify and track trends that will affect our lives or businesses with some degree of accuracy.

A special report published by the World Future Society, "53 Trends Now Shaping the Future," includes a number of forecasts with implications for agriculture.

According to the report, by the year 2050 the world's population will grow to 9.2 billion. It's about 6.5 billion at present. "To meet human nutritional needs over the next 40 years, global agriculture will have to supply as much food as has been produced during all of human history," the report states.

What a daunting task that will be. Improved control of livestock and plant diseases, biotechnology and a more level playing field for international trade surely will all be critical in producing that much food.

The report came nowhere near predicting that we will run out of food, poison the environment or raise the global thermostat too high for us to live. That's probably why it hasn't received much media attention.

Although one red flag for agriculture is the report's serious concern about water shortages. According to the report, "By 2050, fully two-thirds of the world's population could be living in regions with chronic, widespread shortages of water." The report further concluded that drought, periodic famine and desertification are expected to grow more frequent and severe in coming decades.

Ironically, this study seemed more concerned about running out of water than oil. The authors predict that oil will remain the world's most important energy resource for years to come, but in two or three decades oil will have less of a choke-hold on the global economy. Growing competition from other energy sources, including renewable fuels, will limit the price of oil.

But the most precious commodity in the world will be time. Increasingly fast-paced lifestyles will lead to people reaching out more and more for time-saving products and services. At the Food Marketing Institute trade show recently in Chicago, vendors previewed new grab-and-go-cups of water-packed carrots and celery. Similar cups of fruit sold in convenience stores are already a success. People don't even have time to peel fruit, or so it seems.

Agro-tourism has been a growing business on American farms and ranches in recent years, and that's likely to continue. Over the next 10 years, travel and tourism are expected to grow by an average of 4.5 percent annually. By 2020, the 100-million Chinese population will replace Americans, Japanese and Germans as the most numerous international travelers.

Urbanization is a trend that's accelerating, not just in the United States, but around the world. By 2015, there are expected to be 59 mega-cities with populations over 5 million. Forty-eight of them will be in less-developed countries. These will be huge, concentrated markets for food and fiber which American agriculture can supply if given access.

Stewart Truelsen is a contributing writer to the Focus on Agriculture series for American Farm Bureau Federation.

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