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The Future of Agriculture: Issues & Trends at the 2014 Ag Outlook Forum

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This week I had the privilege of representing Nature’s Seed at the 90th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia. During this two day event, government and industry leaders from around the world gathered to discuss agricultural policy, scientific research, agribusiness, current issues and future trends. For me, the forum was an excellent opportunity to gather information that our customers might find useful. Whether you’re a large-scale rancher, a hobby farmer, or just have a lawn or small garden, the topics covered at the forum impact us all.


Drought in the West

The drought in California and other parts of the West was a major topic throughout the forum. During his speech, Chief Economist Joseph Glauber repeatedly referred to the drought in California as being the “wildcard” this year as far as agricultural production is concerned. The Central Valley is getting hit particularly hard, and it’s very likely that food prices will increase as a result. With this in mind, it’s critical that we all do our part to conserve what little water is available this year. For those of us planning to establish or renovate a pasture, consider planting more drought-tolerant forage species and practicing dryland farming methods in case irrigation becomes unavailable. If you’re planning to establish a lawn, be aware that lawns will be the first to have their irrigation restricted during water shortages. You may want to consider planting buffalograss, the most drought-tolerant lawn grass available.


Consumer Trends: Grass-Fed Beef

Consumer trends were another hot topic at the forum. One trend that I found particularly interesting was the subject of grass-fed beef. This industry continues to grow and looks very promising for those thinking of entering this niche market. You might be asking, what exactly is the significance of 100 percent pasture-raised beef? While most beef cattle are raised from birth on grass, they often finish their lives eating grain. Most beef produced nowadays has spent the last 90 to 160 days in a feedlot; fattened on grain, corn, soy, and other supplements and fillers. This enables producers to grow their cattle much faster and bigger, but also has some negative side effects for both the animal and environment. On the other hand, 100 percent grass-fed cattle enjoy healthier conditions and avoid digestive complications from unnatural diets. Grass-fed meat also tends to be much leaner and lower in fat than grain-fed meat, as well as containing less saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol. It also contains higher levels of beta-carotene, vitamin C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. With the demand for grass-fed beef increasing, there’s never been a better time to enter this market.


Getting Young People Involved in Agriculture

During the forum, the latest data from the agricultural census was released. The census showed that the average age of the American farmer continues to increase, and now sits at 58.3 years old. With the age of those involved in agriculture continuing to increase, a deep concern is developing. Who’s going to take the place of those retiring in the coming years? Throughout the forum, the question of how to get young people involved in agriculture was asked over and over again. I believe the answer lies with early involvement in the outdoors, specifically with school and home gardening activities. Gardening benefits children in several ways. First, it’s healthy. Multiple scientific studies are now beginning to show children exposed to dirt, animals, pollen and the outdoors at an early age have fewer allergies and other autoimmune diseases later in life. Second, it’s therapeutic. Gardening can help manage ADD and ADHD, and several studies suggest frequent outdoor activities can even curb depression. Children are natural gardeners, curious and eager to explore the magic of nature. By introducing gardening to children at a young age, many are sure to take an interest in the agricultural sciences. We should be doing everything possible to help our children develop a love of working with nature. America depends on the future of these young agriculturalists.

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