Productive soils in the U.S. hold potential for global future food production goalsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Fort Collins, Colo. – “Soils have a taxonomy, and there are 12 orders of soils,” stated Paul Genho, the retired president of Farmland Reserve, at the International Livestock Forum in Fort Collins, Colo. on Jan. 13.
“Not all soils are created equal,” he added.
Soils are categorized by how they are developed, and some are more productive than others.
“Mollisols are the most productive soils in the world. They developed over millions of years under grass and grazing animals,” he explained.
Some of these soils are found across Europe, but many of them are in places where there is very little water.
“We have been blessed in the U.S. to have many of these soils in places where it rains,” he commented.
Alfisols are the second most productive soils in the world.
“These appear in the northeastern U.S. and have developed under deciduous forests,” Genho continued.
Genho predicted that North and South America will be the breadbasket of the world, based on the basic soil composition of the continents.
“The U.S. has 6.7 percent of the land area in the world, 4.2 percent of the population and 21 percent of the mollisols,” he stated.
This is significant because the major world populations of the world are in areas with poorer soils. Over half of the population of the world is concentrated in China, India and Africa.
“Africa will never feed itself more than a subsistence diet without some major innovation, and China will never be fully self-sustained, because of the soil,” he noted.
By 2050, the global population is expected to grow to 9 billion people, meaning that the food supply will need to grow by 70 percent, he continued.
“Globally, we are adding the whole population of Germany every year,” he stated.
Germany, though, is not growing, and neither are other developed countries.
“The birth rate is 1.36 children per woman in Germany, 1.32 in Spain and 1.9 in France,” he commented.
In those countries, young couples are being encouraged to have children to maintain the countries’ populations.
“In order of anticipated population inflation, India is first, China is second and Pakistan is third,” he said, explaining that these countries are growing rapidly.
Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia and the U.S. are also predicted to have rapidly increasing populations. Except for the U.S., these countries have soils with very low productivity.
“The growth in the U.S. will come from immigrants,” Genho added.
Capacity to feed
Starvation, he adds, is already a global problem, with one in seven people who go to bed hungry every night.
“Six million children a year will die of malnutrition,” he stated.
The U.S. has the capacity to feed the world and will likely have the responsibility of doing so, according to Genho.
“There is another interesting thing about the U.S., and that is transportation,” he added.
While he was living in Brazil, he had only one road to get in or out, which could be closed at any time due to weather or politics.
“In Brazil, they can grow a lot of corn, but they can’t get it out once they’ve produced it,” he explained.
America is lucky to have cheap and reliable transportation, which aids in the ability to transport food once it is grown.
“Food has doubled in price in the last 10 years,” he commented.
The impact on American agriculture has been positive, but Genho questions the global implications of this trend.
“The world is going to have a population growth explosion, and Americans are going to have to deal with it one way or another. We are going to help solve it, or we will have to deal with it in other ways,” he said.