It is no secret that our country’s hard-working farmers depend on Mother Nature and all of her graces to survive, prosper and feed a hungry nation and planet. They count on plentiful rainfall, moderate temperatures and sunshine to grow crops. Abundant and healthy crops feed not only consumers, but also farm animals like egg-laying hens, poultry, beef cattle and hogs.
Recent reports on climate change indicate that the plight of farmers may be even more perilous in the future, affecting not only their livelihoods but also all aspects of food security including food access, utilization and price stability for consumers. Climate change could affect not only farmers and their rural communities, but everyone who eats. The recently issued National Climate Assessment report projects that while climate change will have widespread effect on everyday lives of all Americans, “climate change is projected to have more negative impacts on crops and livestock.”
Drought alone was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion from 2011 to 2013. Farmers and ranchers know that severe and extreme weather means crop damage, delayed spring planting, weaker harvests and reduced yields, and they know that those things have happened with increasing frequency during the past decade. Areas of water scarcity and drought are expanding, while at the same time severe storms are damaging crops and affecting farm animals.
Farmers are learning to produce more food, using fewer resources, than ever before. One example is egg farmers who have increased production in the past 50 years from 60 billion to 78 billion eggs annually – while at the same time decreasing the amount of land, water and other production inputs per dozen eggs. And they’ve also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, which is the equivalent of taking five million cars off the nation’s highways.
How have they accomplished this? It has been done through hard work and the application of science and innovation. Science has produced a hen breeding stock that is more efficient, and housing and animal husbandry improvements have helped too. Today’s egg farmer uses a little more than half the amount of feed to produce a dozen eggs than they did 50 years ago. Improved feed quality, reduced feed waste and increased hen feed conversion have all contributed. The improved feed conservation is equivalent to filling 4.7 million boxes of corn or wheat cereal for hungry children. Egg farmers also are using 31 percent less energy and 32 percent less water to produce a dozen eggs today, saving 3.3 billion gallons of water in the process.
Climate variability could have profound effects not only on farmers and consumers, but also the health and well-being of rural residents and communities that depend on agriculture’s local economic base of jobs and services. These impacts are occurring at the same time as crop and food demand are rapidly increasing. The world’s population is projected to jump by 33 percent in the next 25 years to 9.6 billion people.
“Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the parallel responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said. “They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate.”
Farmers also know that they must accomplish all of that while maintaining high ethical production standards. At the same time that egg farmers improved their efficiency and environmental footprint, they also upgraded animal welfare by adhering to the UEP Certified standards, which assures consumers that hens have healthy living conditions including daily nutritious feed, water and clean air; are treated humanely; and farms are inspected by certified third-party experts.
The result is that everyone benefits: Mother Earth, consumers, farmers and hens. A win-win-win-win!
It’s a model of success and necessity.