When I was a child, all orange juice available at the grocery store was ‘from concentrate.’ The perception at the time was that in this form, the juice had the longest shelf-life, best taste, and could be shipped most easily to a wide range of consumers. These notions were correct and the taste of orange juice was consistent and the cost affordable. However, if you had access to fresh squeezed orange juice, you would look down your nose at the concentrated version. Over the years, the consumer demanded a juice closer to the fresh squeezed and processes were modified to meet the demand. Now most consumers under the age of 25 don’t even remember the concentrated juice and perhaps overlook the ‘not-from-concentrate’ on the label.
In the last ten years, the demand for organic foods has skyrocketed. What was once found in a small section of one aisle in the store, can now be found in almost every lane. The cost is higher, but as the demand increases, there are more producing organic options, which in turn pushes the cost down.
These are just a couple of examples of how market trends affect production and yield – not unusual or surprising. Sustainability is the newest ‘hot-button’ in agriculture. It’s the idea that responsible use of resources, or stewardship, is best in the long run.
Overproduction of waste alerted our attention to the need to reduce, reuse, recycle. Even Oscar the Grouch had to move to the Recycle Bin. Competition for natural resources, food waste, obesity and related health issues, and increased population forecasts are now turning the attention of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs toward agriculture.
From the UN Division for Sustainable Development, a report dated March 2012, entitled Food and Agriculture: the future of sustainability, identifies main trends and the challenges they pose as we move toward 2030. Although the article is a few years old, the issues of concern author Daniele Giovannucci summarizes are still relevant to today’s farmer and impact agriculture and society. According to Giovannucci, ‘Agriculture is at the threshold of a necessary paradigm shift.’
In light of the population trajectory that Giovannucci anticipates by 2030, a major increase in food production, without degrading resources or encroaching on remaining natural habitats and biodiversity, is necessary. How does Giovannucci and the Division for Sustainable Development propose to solve these problems? She summarizes nine (9) items to address. These include organizing small and medium farms as a primary focus of investment (she looks to China, of all places, for her example); providing access to more nutritious food options, rather than simply ramping up production (subsidies for foods that do not contribute to public health would be eliminated); pursuing healthy ecosystems that are biodiverse and water-conscious; encouraging practical innovation and sharing it across socio-economic divisions; significantly reducing waste along the entire food chain; restricting the use of arable land for biofuels; developing intelligent and transparent measurement practices; adapting public and private institutions to effectively respond to the goals; and finally, rewarding those businesses and systems that contribute to the ‘public good.’
Upon first reading of these suggestions, the solutions sound viable and reasonable. But on closer examination, the solutions, if implemented federally, would require a great deal of oversight and perhaps regulation. Do these ‘visionaries’ assume that farmers are unaware of the issues they face? Many are already addressing these challenges. Farmers are interested in efficient and effective practices. They implement innovative solutions to waste, water conservation, soil sustenance, effective measurement practices, etc., simply because they yield the best results. Their land is their livelihood and the wiser they manage their resources the better the outcome. Keeping an eye on the consumer demand has always been fundamental to those in agriculture.
Associations, like the National Watermelon Association, were founded in order to gather those with a common interest for the benefit of the entire community. Our members have access to the latest production practices, research to combat disease, information regarding consumer trends and demands. I have heard many stories about how our members have helped one another to meet obligations, share resources, and even send workers. Innovations, like water-conserving irrigation tape and mechanized equipment to seed seedling trays, are developed and shared within the membership of the Association.
Perhaps the forecast outlined in the Sustainable Development report is correct. It seems that the watermelon industry has solutions of its own to meet the future with optimism.
“China’s Futuristic Vertical Farms.” -China’s Future Vertical Farms. Outdoor Design Source, 28 Aug. 2013. Web. 19 June 2015. <http://www.outdoordesign.com.au/Environmental/Green-Roofs-Green-Walls/Chinas-futuristic-vertical-farms/1683.html>.
Giovannucci, Daniele. “Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.” International Organization 1.2 (1947): 350-54. Sustainabledevelopment.un.org. Mar. 2012. Web. 19 June 2015. <https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/agriculture_and_food_the_future_of_sustainability_web.pdf>.