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Farm News & Views - November 2, 2021

For several decades, the pros and cons of ‘animal agriculture” or the production of livestock, dairy products and poultry, focused on whether it was ethical to consume animals or animal products. Lately, arguments have shifted to how much animal agriculture is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. The recent paper, written by Patrick Brown and Michael Elsen, titled, “Eliminating Animal Agriculture Would Negate 56% of Anthropocentric Greenhouse Gas Emissions through 2100,” paints animal agriculture as a gassy business. Maybe the development of laboratory meat products could eliminate some of the nasty gas emissions, but before we get rid of all of those gas bag beef cattle, milk cows, hogs, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks and so on, we should take a look at some other scientific research. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that agriculture, forestry, and land use produce 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while global livestock production, which includes growing feed for livestock and using land for grazing represents 14.5% of all anthropocentric greenhouse gas emissions, and the 2017 report, “Nutritional and Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Removing Animals From U.S. Agriculture” by Robin R. White and Mary Beth Hall, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contends that taking livestock out of the food supply would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6%. Oh, I didn’t mention that Patrick Brown is founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, and Michael Eisen is an adviser to the company that makes the plant-based Impossible Burger. So maybe their estimates concerning the contributions of livestock to greenhouse gas emissions might be a little overblown.

Currently, cash corn prices in the Midwest are about $5.30 per bushel, that’s a profitable level for most farmers, but the outlook for similar profitability in the Fall of 2022 is questionable due to the escalating cost of phosphorous, potash and nitrogen fertilizers. Farmers who often apply phosphorous and potash fertilizer in the fall and nitrogen in the spring are caught in a perfect storm of fertilizer plant shutdowns, government sanctions and high energy costs in Europe and China that have driven fertilizer prices up on the world market to levels last seen in 2008. Some farmers have put off ordering corn seed for their 2022 crop until prices stabilize and they can determine if corn can be grown profitability in 2022.

Although the following doesn’t relate specifically to farming and ranching, it does have implications for agriculture, because food assistance programs make up $95 billion of the $146 billion dollar U.S. Department of Agriculture budget. Politico reported that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that more than 42 percent of American adults, which is about 100 million people, had obesity before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and that nearly three-fourths of American adults are overweight or have obesity, and roughly one in five children are now obese. The significance of these statistics becomes apparent from a recent National Institute of Health study, which states that nearly two thirds of Covid-19 patient hospitalizations in the U.S. were related to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart failure.

American astrophysicist and planetary scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it. “

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.