By Matt Reese
Hundreds of years of agricultural innovation, research and hard work have made it easier to produce and consume food. This, after all, is what people have always sought with agricultural production. Foraging for berries and killing wild animals for food was certainly not easy, which resulted in the need for agricultural production. Tilling the soil and toiling on the land to produce food in the earliest days of agriculture was easier, but still not easy.
Since then, mankind has continually sought to make food production and distribution easier through a wide array of scientific advancements and innovations that have changed the business of agriculture and changed the world and society in the process. Now, food is comparatively easier and cheaper than ever before. A meal is just a trip to the grocery or a restaurant away. The process to get it there is still by no means easy, but it is easier (I would guess) than slaying a wooly mammoth for dinner.
But, lest things get too easy, we have a growing segment of our well-fed society that is now demanding a closer connection with the quaint red-barn farms of yesteryear (when food was not so easy) with all of the convenience and low cost that they have come to expect from the advances in agriculture. It is certainly not wrong for people to want to know the origins of their food, see how that food is produced on the farm and form a close connection with the food they eat. Many generations have had that connection and this generation should have the same opportunities.
The caveat to this, though, is that these connections are not always possible in our current “easy” system of food production. With that connection, some of that convenience and ease is almost inevitably lost.
People who have not spent endless hours in a tractor, baling hay, feeding livestock, or managing manure do not always understand how challenging producing food can be. Agriculture has excelled at improving the “easy” factor of food to the point where people have lost an appreciation for how hard it is has always been provide the food supply we enjoy. The challenge is that people want to have their locally produced, high quality, low-cost, convenient, organically raised cake and eat it too.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity for Ohio agriculture. With its wealth of diversity, population centers and Eastern Corn Belt location, Ohio has the resources and the demand for smaller, touchy-feely agriculture that more people are demanding. At the same time, Ohio has the agricultural base to support the larger farms that can continue to provide the same level of efficiency, low-cost and convenience that today’s consumers expect.
The real opportunities, I think, are for the farms from either end of the size spectrum to creep toward the middle. Small farms that can really connect to people on a personal level and find ways to offer more convenient “easier” farm products could have tremendous marketplace advantages. Likewise, the large farms that find ways to better connect with their customers by being more transparent, responsive and personal with customers could also enjoy some real advantages. How can your farm move toward the middle to provide what consumers need and what they want during this fascinating time in agriculture?
At any rate, no matter where the future takes your farm, one thing is certain — the production of food will never be easy. Whether most of the population understands that or not, they are the benefactors of centuries of agricultural innovation and that food production is certainly no piece of cake.