By the year 2050, the United Nations projects the world’s population will swell to more than 9.1 billion. That’s 2 billion more people’s mouths to feed than there are today. Sustaining the population at that level will put more strain on agriculture than ever before, but it’s a challenge that today’s feed industry is already preparing to address.
With a $38,000 grant from the Institute for Feed Education & Research (IFEEDER), the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) has commissioned a study to evaluate the relationship between ethanol mandates and feed grains availability, the potential impact of climate change on animal agriculture and other influential factors as we look into the future. The initiative aims to investigate which factors will play pivotal roles in growing the feed industry and where potential challenges lay.
AFIA summoned the Council on Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics (C-FARE), a nonprofit ag economics research organization, to gather data and prepare the study for them, titled “How Will We Feed Livestock as Agriculture Evolves in the 21st Century?”
Feed industry concerns
The AFIA came to C-FARE with several concerns over the future of the animal feed industry and identified the following points to examine in the study:
- The impact of pressure to use feedstuff for humans
- Changing dynamics of cereal grain production
- Interrelationship of fuel and grain production
- Pressure for environmental resources
- The future of climate change and impact on grain production
- Economic forecast in terms of animal agriculture in the near and long terms
“We have a very capable team working on this project,” says Wisner, “Our biggest challenge is how to put this into a manageable size. Right now we’re looking at how to process this information into something useful for the feed industry.”
Details of the report will not be released until the Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS) meeting in July, but Wisner provided a sneak peak at two important components of the team’s research thus far.
The C-FARE panel began their research by focusing on corn demand and price, the main factor behind the recent economic crises that each of the four main meat sectors — pork, beef, dairy and poultry — have experienced in the last decade.
“Before looking at the livestock sectors we have to look at the feed and grain industry,” explains Wisner. “We looked at what’s happening with nonfeed demand and we found that the amount of corn being used — the primary grain feedstock that accounts for over 90% of the feed grain supply — greatly impacts the availability for livestock use.”
One of the most profound factors affecting the corn market over the last decade has been the steep climb in ethanol production brought on in part by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS, enacted by the EPA in 2005, established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in U.S. history and mandated 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012. RFS 2, part of the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Legislation, raised the mandate for corn-starch ethanol blending to 15 billion gallons by 2015 and established other biofuels mandates that could impact the livestock and feed industries.
Richard Sellers, AFIA vice president of feed regulation and nutrition, pointed to the RFS as a major concern for the future of the feed industry.
“Last year the government reported that 40% of corn went to ethanol production,” says Sellers. “That’s a substantial amount and there’s some speculation that it’s raising the price of corn. If we’re going to continue to see that growth, it changes the whole paradigm of livestock production because it puts huge economic pressure on feed costs, which is 50% to 70% of production costs.”