Agriculture is a global market
Imagine a world where food grown in Iowa isn't exported to other nations. Imagine that while the major industries in the U.S. advance to keep up with the changing times, the farming industry is stagnant, using age-old systems that won't sustain the world's quickly growing global population. Imagine if every American farmer is told that the food that they produce isn't for the greater good. This is the kind of world that The Des Moines Register's editorial imagined — and it warrants review.
As the former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, I know farmers. I speak with them on a regular basis about what's on their minds and what's important to them. As Iowa is blessed with some of the best farming land in the world, Iowa farmers are very proud of cultivating these resources and their role in the world's food supply system. It's always been the American sentiment to be proud of where we come from and what we do — and there's no reason the farmers, who put the food on our tables, should feel any other way.
While the editorial did correctly point out that the majority of exports go to developed countries, it failed to mention that agriculture is a global market and Iowa farmers are not isolated from the world food system — they are crucial cogs in the wheel that keeps the system running. If the price of corn, or soybeans in Iowa rises or falls, that impacts the price in developed countries such as Canada, Mexico, China and Japan, and in turn affects the price in third world countries, including Africa, Haiti, India and Bangladesh. When Iowans have a larger than normal harvest, food prices tend to fall in Iowa and abroad, making affordable food more accessible.
Criticizing Iowa farmers for exporting food to developed countries is not only hurtful, but also shortsighted. Arable land in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America is freed up when Iowa exports agricultural goods, allowing these countries to focus their farming on local nutritional needs.
Regardless of whether or not all Americans think that farmers have the responsibility to feed the world, Iowa farmers are in a unique position to do just that. They are able to have this sizable goal, while helping small farmers' productivity and income in developing countries at the same time. Just last month at the Farm Progress Show and again at the World Food Prize, Iowans are helping to solve challenges facing underdeveloped nations by demonstrating how to grow nutritious food sustainably. Also, as the coverage has correctly pointed out, many of the companies that provide farming technology for Iowa farmers participated in the Borlaug Dialogue to discuss ways of ensuring farmers in emerging economies can do better for themselves and their communities through modern farming practices and tools.
The simple fact is that Iowa's agricultural exports do feed the world. A generation ago, the Chinese population didn't eat nearly as well as they do now. Then Iowa farmers grew soybeans that were exported to China as cheap soybean meal for their pigs, resulting in more fatty and cheaper pigs. Suddenly, pork was affordable to a Chinese population that wouldn't have been able to eat it before.
With the world population estimated to be nine billion by 2040, feeding the world should be at the top of our list. Iowa farmers work hard to feed as many people as possible and take immense pride in what they do. We shouldn't be telling farmers that they aren't morally obligated to feed the world. We should be supporting them while having an educated conversation about how farmers and others should be working together towards feeding the quickly growing population and getting food to those that need it the most.
Craig Lang of Brooklyn is president of The Prairie Strategy Group, former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and a dairy and beef farmer.