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Educating people about importance of agriculture

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By D. Bruce Bosley

Colorado Extension Agent/Cropping Systems

American farmers take pride in providing crops to feed and clothe people of the United States and the world. They are also producing crops destined for renewable energy products so that our country is less dependent on imported oil. United Nation world population growth projections will increase from about 6.8 billion people in 2009 to 8.9 people in 2050 representing an increase in population of 30 percent above current levels. All of these people will cause an increasing demand for food, water, energy, and other world resources. The question that many scientists ask is whether agriculture can increase production output enough to meet the food, fiber, and renewable energy needs of this many people.

Expanding human populations increase the use of energy, water, and impact the world through deforestation, CO2 emissions, land degradation and desertification. Furthermore, as people move from third world subsistence to higher income levels they increase their use of resources and negative environmental impacts.

In 2006 approximately half of the people of the world live in urban areas. This percentage continues to grow. Currently the annual population growth rate is 70 to 80 million people. The land needed for basic living space (housing, roads, parking, and shopping malls) for each million is about 99,000 acres which is roughly equal to the irrigated land in either Morgan or Logan County. An acreage loss of prime agricultural land to urbanization and rural residential living is a trend that is reducing the productive capacity of American farmers. This is a very troublesome trend in light of the world's agricultural output needs for the future. We've taken for granted the gift of good land.

Increasing demand on fresh water is another very critical world and local issues. Farmers and city water planners along the South Platte basin have been very involved with protecting water rights especially with increasing water needs from Front Range urban and industrial suppliers. Farmers in the Republican River Basin are also coping with higher pumping and regulatory costs in their efforts at complying with interstate water compacts. Water shortages and drought induced food disasters frequently affect many countries in the world.

Maintaining soil quality is often neglected, especially where food is scarce. Soil Scientists have long known that crop yields are enhanced by increasing levels of soil carbon especially where soil organic matter is very low. Research in North Dakota found higher yields with increasing organic matter even when supplying sufficient fertilizer. This research showed that one can expect corn and winter wheat yields to increase from one and one-half to five and one-third to one bushel per acre, respectively, for a one-percent increase in soil organic matter. Yield benefits are especially likely when starting soil OM is below two percent.

Soil organic matter declines to 60 percent (or less) of the original level when virgin prairie or forest soils are converted to farmland using conventional farming methods. Using current agricultural know-how including conservation till practices, crop rotations, cover crops, and other soil enhancing methods can bring soil organic matter up to about 80 percent of pre-farming levels. Agricultural scientists are studying ways that Agricultural producers can increase this even higher through discovering innovative technologies.

American farmers and ranchers are very capable of producing food, fuel, and fiber for a growing world of people provided that they are not hampered with loss of land, water, or short-sighted laws. Please join me in helping educate our society on the importance of Colorado's agricultural industry.



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