Farm Foundation’s 30-Year Challenge: Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World

By the year 2040, the world’s population is forecast to reach almost 9 billion people, about one-third greater than today.  Incomes are rising, particularly in many developing nations, bringing changes in dietary preferences and greater demand for agriculture to provide food and energy.  All this increases pressure on and competition for natural resources at a time when the impacts of climate change on agricultural production systems are not yet fully understood

Released in December 2008, The 30-Year Challenge: Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World identified six major areas of challenges facing agriculture.  Within each area of challenges, the report highlighted key issues public and private decision makers may need to consider as they address the challenges ahead.

“U.S. agriculture alone cannot feed a growing world.  However, with its rich endowment of agricultural resources and its leadership in technology, the United States will play a critical role in determining if the world will meet this 30-year challenge,” says Farm Foundation President Neil Conklin.  “Given the right tools and incentives, we are confident the world’s agriculture producers and agribusinesses will rise to the challenge.  But those incentives are heavily influenced by public policy.  It is not clear that today’s policies—designed to deal with issues of the last century—will provide appropriate tools and incentives to address the 30-year challenge.”

The 30-year challenge for agriculture defies easy analysis or simple solutions.  Farm Foundation initiated this project to provide public and private decision makers with insights into the complex nature of the challenges and the range of long-term strategies and policies that might be considered. In keeping with Farm Foundation’s history of objectivity—the Foundation does not lobby or advocate—this project was not conceived to recommend specific approaches or solutions.  Rather, the report is intended as a catalyst to foster understanding among all stakeholders of the challenges ahead, potential options to address those challenges and the consequences of those options.

Farm Foundation’s 30-Year Challenge Policy Competition sought innovative and promising public policy options to address the agriculture and food system challenges outlined in the report. The seven winners of the policy competition were recognized at the Farm Foundation 30-Year Challenge Policy Conference Oct. 27, 2009 at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C.

The 30-Year Challenge Report
The report was developed with input from a diverse set of agriculture and agribusiness leaders, government agency representatives and academics.  The report identifies six major challenges that may impact agriculture’s ability to provide feed, fiber and energy to a growing world: global financial markets and recession; global food security; global energy security; climate change; competition for natural resources; and global economic development.

The report was released Dec. 4, 2008, at the Farm Foundation conference of the same name. The conference was designed not only to introduce the report but, through the various presentations, to spur additional thinking and discussion about the 30-year challenge. Conference presenters added their own voices to the issues, expanding on concerns highlighted in the report and identifying new ones.

“Farm Foundation has a 76-year commitment to objectivity, fostering constructive debate that is essential to sound public policy development in a democracy. It is appropriate that Farm Foundation be the catalyst to spur all stakeholders to begin discussions on the 30-year challenge,” Conklin said. “The need is real and well recognized.  The world stage is set for new directions and solutions.  This is what one project participant termed ‘a generational opportunity’ to begin new discussions on public policies for the 21st century.”

Farm Foundation is directing and leading this project.  The Foundation acknowledges additional financial support from the Global Harvest Initiative, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and United Egg Producers.

The Dec. 4, 2008 conference was part of the Dec. 2-4 Food and Agricultural Policy Summit, a collaboration of Farm Foundation and Farm Journal Media. The three-day Summit offered programs on a wide range of domestic and global issues facing the food system, agriculture and rural regions. One highlight of the summit was “A Conversation with the Secretaries,” at which seven former Secretaries of Agriculture offered their perspectives on the challenges facing agriculture today.

Read the executive summary or full report

Read the Dec. 4, 2008 press release


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