Speaker to chamber: Demand for food on rise

The head of a regional farmer-owned cooperative recently discussed his view of the future of an industry that feeds the world with local farmers, agribusinessmen and women and other local leaders.

“There will be a 70 percent increase in demand for food in 2050,” Harold Cooper told those attending the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s annual Ag Day Breakfast.

Cooper, CEO of Premier Companies since 2001, said the increase in demand stems from a world population expected to grow from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9 billion people by 2050.

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“We have to produce more food in the next 50 years than we did in the last 10,000 years combined, and we need to do it with less land, water and energy,” Cooper said.

He said there’s nothing wrong with people wanting organic food and free-range animals that are free of antibiotics and growth hormones, but that is not the way to meet the growing demand for food and with less resources.

Cooper said the answer to accomplishing more with less involves a field-to-market program that involves large agricultural companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta AG and BASF; nature and wildlife groups such as Ducks Unlimited, World Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense Fund; and retailers such as Walmart, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, Unilever and others. Land grant universities such as Purdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture also will be involved.

The purpose of the field-to-market program would be to meet the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, Cooper said.

That would occur by increasing productivity to meet future food and fiber demands by improving the environment and human health and the social and economic well-being of agricultural communities, he said.

Cooper said all of those sitting around the table in the field-to-market program are driving the direction of agriculture. They are asking agriculture to measure and track improvement, do things that are science based and use technology and innovation.

Walmart, for instance, is collaborating with 15 large suppliers representing 30 percent of the company’s food and beverage sales in North America in an effort to optimize fertilizer use and tilling practices to deliver more sustainable products to its customers, Cooper said.

He said those companies have a clear message.

“If you are going to put food in our stores, you need to be able to prove to us, demonstrate with the evidence and show us that you are doing things that better protect the environment,” he said. “You’re doing things to reduce your energy requirements. You’re doing things to be good stewards of everything you’ve been charged to do.”

Cooper said he thinks in the future, agriculture is going to be guided more by what food companies and consumers ask the industry to do than what the government asks of it.

Cooper said egg production is an example of how innovation can make a difference.

“There are 6.5 billion hens in the world today,” he said, noting each of those hens produce 184 eggs a year.

To meet global demand in 2050, there will need to be 13 million hens.

“Or we can put innovation to work and meet demand without adding hens,” he said. “Just one more egg per hen (185) helps meet demand and requires 4 billion fewer hens.”

The chamber’s ag committee organizes the Ag Day Breakfast each year and also presents scholarships to two FFA members from local high school chapters.

This year’s $1,000 scholarship went to Emma Wischmeier of Trinity Lutheran High School, and her classmate, Chad Stuckwisch, received the $500 scholarship. Both students read the essays that helped them win the scholarship.

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The Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce scholarships winners

Chad Stuckwisch

School: Trinity Lutheran High School

Parents: Terry and Pam Stuckwisch

Scholarship amount: $500

Emma Wischmeier

School: Trinity Lutheran High School

Parents: Lewis and Holly Wischmeier

Scholarship amount: $1,000