2010 Saw 67 Billion Pounds of Food in U.S. Landfills


The 2012 Bayer Ag Issues Forum is now underway in Nashville, Tennessee.  This two-day event will bring us to the Commodity Classic which will kick off on Thursday.  Through this story, which will be added to daily, Haylie Shipp with provide a blog-style overview of the week’s happenings. 

But before we get into those details, here’s some proof that it’s not all work and no play!!  Attendees of the 2012 Bayer Ag Issues Forum took part in a VIP concert from CMA artist Josh Turner.  Haylie’s name was drawn out of the hat and she even got to do a private meet and greet with the star!  Josh Turner is from Hannah, South Carolina, and has sold more than 5 million albums.  His number one hits include “Your Man,” “Would You Go With Me,” “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” and “All Over Me.”  His debut album, Long Black Train was certified platinum for more than 1 million copies sold, and his sophomore album, Your Man, was one of only four country albums to reach double-platinum status in 2006.

Day 2 – Bayer Ag Issues Forum 

Feet on the Ground:  Sustainability in Action

Our first presentation of Wednesday was focused on the idea of “sustainability.”  That discussion kicked off with Dennis H. Treacy, the Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for Smithfield Foods, Inc.  Treacy opened his presentation by showing us the stack of books he keeps on his desk.  From titles like “Food, Inc.” to “Animal Factory,” he explained that these books are all about animal agriculture and are books that are not written by those within it.  He also focused in on negative attacks from social media and newspapers against his company. 

So what does Smithfield do about the noise?  Treacy says that they have chosen the path of transparency and engagement.  They are moving from being reactive to proactive.  As a former environmental regulator who is now working worth this Fortune 500 company, he says that he has worked extensively to improve the environmental management of the company.  While the environmental issues were serious when he came to the company, he told us that the animal welfare buzz that was out about Smithfield were that much worse.  Through their actions, they have received praise from names such as Temple Grandin about them putting together a good model for the entire pork industry. 

From test-tube hamburgers to enriro-pigs to a chicken-raising platform that would allow you to take out part of their brain so that they don’t feel pain, Treacy says that research is going on out there to change the way that we produce our food.

Presenting with Treacy was Suzy Friedman, the Deputy Director for Working Lands with the Environmenal Defense Fund (EDF).  She says that they work on three tiers with EDF.  They stress moving forward on projects using good science, good economics, and meaningful collaboration.  She sees the sustainability challenge as feeding the world without destroying it.  Some suggestions for how we got there include using practices and tools to improve efficiency and performance, the strategic use of landscape filters to capture what is lost, and finding better ways to measure and document impact and performance.  Going back to “the way things used to be,” Friedman says, is not sustainable, not practical, and would likely not be all that well received by consumers.

The Weeds Are Getting Smarter:  A Problem Nobody Wants

The next segment of our morning focused on herbicide resistance.  Our take-home message from Dr. Larry Steckel, an Associate Professor for Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee was that glyphosate resistance is a huge problem in his area.  The advice that he had for folks that haven’t seen it thus far or that haven’t seen it to the extreme that they have is “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve been proactive.”

Up next was a more Midwestern view from Dr. Aaron Hager, an Associate Professor in the Weed Science Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois.  He discussed the idea of multiple resistance.  He used data from a 2010 survey in IL, IA and KY.  He found that on a field basis, 29{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of the fields that they tested were resistant to all three types of herbicides that they tested resistance for.  Going forward in their studies, he says that they seldom get samples in from the center of Illinois because their glyphosate resistance is so extreme, they don’t need to send samples in to be tested – they know they have a problem.

Andrew Wargo III discussed the idea of herbicide resistance by opening with the statement that herbicide resistance is not new.  He said that the first case was back in the 1960’s, but that it has extremely increased in the last 20 years.  He also added that the majority of glyphosate-resistance is taking place in the U.S.  Wargo tells that 80{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of cotton acres and 61{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of soybean acres in Arkansas have seen the impact of weed resistance.

Hands in the Dirt:  First-hand Grower Experiences

From a panel on herbicide resistance to a panel of producers, the next and final portion of our morning featured a panel of five producers from Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Louisiana.  They started out defining the buzz word “sustainability” and what it means to them in their operations.  Ryan Weeks, a corn grower from Juniata, Nebraska reflected back to a saying his day passed down to him.  That is that farmers are active environmentalists, not environmental activists.  They all focused on the reality that sustainability – regardless of how you want to define it – is a no-brainer in agriculture that is practiced on the ground every day.  However, as we’ve all heard and most have expressed, Bob Meek, the CEO of Wada Farms Marketing Group told our audience about some aggravation when it comes with defining exactly what sustainability is across all of agriculture and from the farm to the consumer.

Ryan Kirby, a cotton and grain producer from Shreveport, Louisiana expressed that one of the main challenges they run into is weather.  The main weather complication for them?  Hurricanes!  Ryan says that he’s been farming for 9 years.  Two of those years he’s lost substantial cotton acreage due to hurricanes.  Another year he lost a substantial amount of cotton because rain just kept coming down.

John Weinand, a wheat grower from Hazen, North Dakota expressed concern about outside interests and their input towards agricultural practices.  When quizzed about biotechnology in wheat, he says that it may not be a choice that he makes for his operation.  However, he says that as wheat loses acres to corn and to beans, producers need every tool they can get.

In discussing how to get consumers involved with their farm, Nancy Kavazanjian says that they also plant a patch of sweet corn on their farm in Dodge County, Wisconsin so that anyone can welcome themselves out and grab corn.  


DAY 1 – Bayer Ag Issues Forum

What’s new with Bayer CropScience?

To open the Forum, Lykele van der Broek discussed the growing competition between food, feed, fuel, and fiber demand as the supply-demand situation for crops tightens.  While we often hear that the world population will double by 2050, a shorter term reality, according to van der Broek, is that the population will grow 10{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} between 2010 and 2020.  The solution, he says, to keeping up with the growing demand is increasing productivity.  The only way to increase productivity is innovation. 

Dr. Mathias Kremer, the Bayer CropScience Head of Global BioScience, told our crowd that the company is investing both time and dollars in the innovation needed to produce more out of the same amount of land.  One area where they’ve been active is in creating multi-gene herbicide tolerance for oilseeds.  They are also devoting efforts towards wheat, which they say has been somewhat of a “step child” as they work on technologies in other crops.

Dr. Kremer says they are investing in this field now because the demand for wheat is growing far faster than the current increase in production.  The initial focus is on productivity, stress tolerance, and nutrient uptake.  Bayer CropScience is now working with Texas A & M and Texas AgriLife Research to focus on developing wheat lines offering improved yields as well as drought tolerance and disease resistance.  While they don’t expect that we’ll see any major changes in wheat technologies by 2015, they hope we’ll see better crops realized as a result of these efforts ten years from now.

Food Waste:  A Growing Problem

One of our first guest presenters at the forum was Kai Robertson.  She is the Director for Food, Beverage and Agriculture Practice with the Business for Social Responsibility.  While she agrees that we need to work on yields at growing more food for a hungry population, she says that there is a lot of food that is just wasted.  Here are some of her statistics:

  • In 2010, there were 67 billion pounds of food in U.S. landfills.  Assuming all of that food was edible, this would be enough food for the 47,000,000 Americans that are living in poverty to have four meals a day for a year.
  • Robertson says that 25{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of the food that we bring into our homes is tossed.  For an average family, that adds up to roughly $2,200 annually.
  • Food scraps account for 18{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of landfills.  Landfills account for 23{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of greenhouse gas emissions.

In offering suggestions for how to combat the waste, she says that portions need to be smaller.  We are often served an unrealistic amount of food.  She says that sell-by and use-by dates can be confusing, resulting in consumers throwing away food with a better-safe-than-sorry mentality.   

The State of Ag:  Domestic and Global Trends

Bill Lapp has more than 25 years of experience analyzing and forecasting economic conditions and commodity markets.  As one of the presenters at this year’s Bayer Ag Issues Forum, Bill told us that with rising prices and tight stocks, price volatility is also going to increase.

Key factors driving commodity prices to record levels:

  1. Strong Global Economic Growth

    1. Led by Developing Countries, i.e. China

  2. Weakening of the U.S. Dollar Since 2002
  3. Biofuels Policy

Crude oil prices have tripled in the last 10 years.  World crude oil demand, according to Lapp, is being led by China and other developing countries.  This, he says, is true in both energy and food resources.  This boils down to an increase in food demand from China and those countries.  The U.S. is now a net exporter of diesel fuel.  Understandably, this has increased the demand for diesel.

Ethanol accounts for 38{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} of corn use.  Higher corn prices mean less meat production.  We’ve reduced the available meat supply for U.S. consumers to the lowest number since 1987.  This, he says, likely has to deal less with consumer choices and more with the feed supply for livestock.

The growth and demand for oilseeds is going to take much more of a spotlight in the near future.  For the first time ever, canola acreage is going to exceed wheat acreage in Canada.  The world oilseed acreage has increased 25{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f} in the last 11 years.  In that time frame, Canadian canola acreage is up 52{962fe9be9a8a5c386944bfa41f48d98b010325707b70b1fa6182bcabd27c5d7f}.

 Global Food Security:  Thinking Beyond Yield Growth

The global population is set to hit 9 billion by the year 2050.  According the Gawain Kripke with Oxfam America, those estimates have also been updated to show that the total population will be closer to 11 billion by the end of the century.

The reason that people are hungry isn’t because there isn’t enough food, according to Kripke.  What does keep the hungry from obtaining that nutrition is a lack of income to purchase the food. 

A new global system must meet:

  1. The production challenge
  2. The ecological challenge
  3. The equity challenge
  4. The resilience challenge

Kripke says that part of the solution is allowing more opportunities for small producers in developing countries.  Saying that, he adds that the world did last year hit the tipping point where, for the first time ever, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas.


© Northern Ag Network 2012

Haylie Shipp


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