What does it mean to honor the harvest in the 21st century? This is the question that Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of United States Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), set out to answer in her recent presentation at AEM’s March Ag Sector Board Meeting.
Fitzgerald discussed public perceptions of agriculture and why industry allies need to join forces to speak with a unified voice.
The two most prominent obstacles that farmers will face within the next 30 years, Fitzgerald claims, is amount of food production and sustainability. With the effects of climate change and population growth hindering food production, farmers are faced with challenges not unlike landing on the moon for the first time or traversing the unknown seas.
With the issues mentioned above playing a large role in today’s harvest, Fitzgerald said that people must seek out innovative answers. Farmers worldwide must provide the amount of food that’s been produced in the last 8,000 years in the next 40 years. It is a task that has been described by 193 world leaders as the greatest challenge of our time.
To compare the farming industry with something that most people can understand, Fitzgerald broke it down into restaurant terms. In the United States, there have 1 million restaurant operators and 3,180,074 farmers. Restaurant operators have an exact formula and an exact way to do things to go about their business. The formula does not vary. Conversely, the complexity of farmers and their operations is hyper-specific.
Whether it is the 10,000 different soil types, different weather patterns, or any other inconsistent factor in the farming industry, farmers have to deal with and manage a wildly complex operation. This concept further attests to the fact that farmers have a monumental challenge in front of them, and they cannot be allowed to face it alone.
Of all the land in the United States, 48 percent of it is in the hands of farmers and ranchers. While climate change and sustainability are issues that affect the entire world, people look to farmers and ranchers for a solution. Fitzgerald suggested that farmers are perhaps the change-makers that everybody has been looking for, saying, “You can’t have a sustainable development goal if it doesn’t start with stewardship.”
Additionally, Fitzgerald said, farmers need to own sustainability and teach the rest of the world what it means. While it is up to the general population to help, farmers must take initiative and enact innovative solutions today to provide for a better and healthier planet tomorrow. This must be achieved by aligning the goals with the 5 P’s of sustainability: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.
U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance 2.0
In order to address the current issues facing farmers and ranchers, several prominent leaders in the industry came together and formed the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance 2.0. The alliance is founded on the idea that every acre, farmer and voice matters. By doing this, the industry will be better positioned to face the challenges together and use farmers and ranchers as the conduit “to bring the rest of the hive together.”
With this agricultural organization and its partners, Fitzgerald believes that the future is bright for our planet. Sustainability for a better tomorrow starts with farmers, but ends with the world. As Fitzgerald said in her closing remarks, “One voice can be as strong as 50.” Figuring out how to honor the harvest today is crucial so we can honor the harvest in 30 years.