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Give the people protein

You’re eating the wrong protein. The story comes out about once per year. This spring, it was a flash of stories about a recommendation from former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Last year, it was sparked by reporters covering a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation report. The gist is always the same: we need to eat more insects and less meat. Do some research. You’ll see what I mean. The we-should-eat-bugs meme runs in tandem with U.N. reports on world resources, demographers’ estimates about world population, and economists’ speculation about rising living standards in places like China and India. Of course, animal rights organizations and environmental activists celebrate these reports, as livestock is an anathema to their causes. For the most part, these reports don’t mention the fact that, at least for beef, the market cycle has taken U.S. livestock numbers to historic lows. Nor do they mention that price signals have begun to reverse that trend. And, scanning the popular press, I couldn’t find much that related to the improvements we’ve made to be more efficient at raising beef—especially here in Today’s Farmer country. Back in 2011, Elanco president Jeff Simmons addressed Nebraska beef growers at a University of Nebraska beef seminar. His presentation focused on the notion of sustainability and the progress at the farm level to move toward it. He pointed out that since 1944, annual production of milk per cow has quadrupled in the United States, and in fact, every gallon of milk requires 65 percent less water and 90 percent less land than it did in 1944. That equates to 76 percent less manure being produced for each gallon of milk sold. It also means that the “carbon footprint” for a gallon of milk in 2007 was 63 percent lower than it was in 1944. He said the story was very much the same for every pound of beef found in the meat case. Simmons reported that we need nearly a third fewer cattle today to meet demand than we did in 1977. He said each pound of beef produced in the United States today requires 14 percent less water and 34 percent less land, and beef production generates 20 percent less manure than in 1977. On the grain side, we’ve seen similar gains. In 1961, an acre of wheat globally fed about two people. Today we can feed nearly six people from that same acre. Technology in livestock production, feed and land management has made these gains possible, but we’ll have to do more as world population rises. That’s something that agriculture’s critics have right. Inside this issue of Today’s Farmer, you’ll find stories that discuss just how to increase efficiency on a beef operation. It starts at the literal grass roots through forage production. Good forage is the foundation of an efficient beef herd. You’ll see, too, that a recurring theme in our stories is the value of fetal programming. Research continues to show that gestational nutrition has life-long effects on the health of a calf and its ability to efficiently gain weight and reproduce. Finally, you will read about considering the environment as an asset to your operation. Responsible animal husbandry and agronomic practices are paramount given today’s social attitudes about diet and the environment. These are high times for beef production, but as producers, we need to continue to improve. There truly is a growing population, and one that will increasingly demand protein in its diet. As farmers and ranchers, you have a great opportunity to help meet that demand. The alternative, as favored by Mr. Annan and ministers at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization is something like this: "Western societies still largely averse to the practice of eating insects will require tailored strategies that address the disgust factor and break down common myths surrounding the practice. Governments, ministries of agriculture and even knowledge institutions in developed countries will need to be targeted, given that insects as food and feed are still largely absent from political and research agendas. Insects are still viewed as pests by a large majority of people, despite the increasing literature pointing to their valuable role in the diets of humans and animals." It’s time to give the people protein. Let’s make more pounds of beef on less feed and land. Besides, grubs fall through the grill.

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