Weâ€™ve all seen the predictions for the future of agriculture â€“ more mouths to feed while arable land is gobbled up by development, global shortages of fertilizers, water and energy, concerns over greenhouse gas emissions, antibiotic use and animal welfare. The general consensus is that agriculture will need to produce more while using fewer resources. And while some decisions are driven by misinformation, consumers, food companies and governments increasingly insist on documentation of sustainability in food production.
Veterinarians find themselves on the front lines of the sustainability movement. Efficiency is key to improving sustainability in animal agriculture, and that means we need better disease prevention, parasite control and better feed utilization while also addressing consumer demands for animal welfare and antibiotic stewardship
During 2016, several events drew international attention to the issue of sustainability in agriculture, and specifically in livestock production. These include the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) report, which focused on sustainability, the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef, which took place in Alberta in October, and release of new sustainable-agriculture recommendations from the UNâ€™s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The GAP report, from the Global Harvest Initiative, uses an index of total factor productivity (TFP) for monitoring agricultural productivity. TFP takes into account all of the land, labor, capital, and material resources employed in farm production and compares them with the total amount of crop and livestock output.
In livestock production according to the report, TFP increases when favorable genetic qualities in animals are selected and bred, and when animals receive better overall husbandry, vaccinations and high quality feeds that deliver more nutrition per volume.
The GAP Index In 2010, GHI calculated that global agricultural productivity (TFP) must grow by an average rate of at least 1.75% annually in order to double agricultural output through productivity gains by 2050. Based on USDA data, the 2016 GAP report says global TFP growth is falling slightly short of that goal, with annual increases averaging 1.73%.
As for livestock production, the GAP report emphasizes animal health as a critical area for improvement. The report notes that about 20% of the worldâ€™s livestock are lost to disease, with resources invested in raising them essentially wasted. And in addition to death loss, we lose tremendous volumes of potential milk and meat production to reduced performance associated with diseases such as mastitis and bovine respiratory disease. In the United States alone, the report says antibiotic treatment for mastitis results in disposal of 1.2 billion servings of milk each year.
Read the full 2016 GAP report from the Global Harvest Initiative.
Part 2 of this series outlines recommendations for livestock production included in the UNâ€™s 2016 Sustainability Report.