How Sustainable Farming Will Save Lives

| October 15, 2017

As the world’s population grows, sustainable agriculture and teaching how to practice it may be the most pressing issue of our time. And while farmers can talk to each other about the best ways to keep their crops alive and how to maximize profits, doing so in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way is paramount.

It’s not enough for one farmer to say future generations need to be considered when decisions about pesticides are made. Big corporations that aid farmers with their equipment and machinery need to step up and get involved. The message needs to come from agriculture giants like John Deere and to a certain extent, Caterpillar.

These companies make tractors, lawn mowers, fertilizer, and a variety of other products used for agriculture. They’ve seen record profits recently, especially Deere.

Deere says recovery in South America’s agricultural sector was “strong,” and it’s taking steps to expand its customer base and operate in a more efficient manner. They also said the North American agricultural market was “stabilizing,” and Deere has added more products to its portfolio. All of this has led Deere to expect “significantly higher earnings” for 2017.

With much of the world’s population growth expected to occur outside the U.S. (Veris puts the estimated world population at 9 billion by 2040), working on sustainable agriculture that is environmentally progressive and scalable is chief.

Some companies like Deere are already trying to make a difference. They have several precision agriculture management products that let farmers use data to become more efficient by knowing exactly when and where to put down pesticide. They also have programs to help farmers better understand where to put down their seeds and use chemicals effectively. But no matter how much humanity would like farmers to be pesticide and chemical free, it just isn’t feasible in a world that is seeing more extreme weather patterns and facing insects that are becoming pesticide resistant.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects per capita income for developing markets to grow 20 percent from 2015 to 2018, making it extremely important that sustainable and environmentally progressive farming methods are practiced. And since Deere has a huge presence in countries like Brazil, India, and other developing countries, it’s increasingly important that farm equipment manufacturers play a role here.

A population explosion won’t be the only thing to affect farming in the future. People are migrating towards cities, which has led to a boom in infrastructure spending around the world. That means greater construction equipment sales, and more profits for Deere and Caterpillar.

And as urban areas see population growth and economies strengthen around the globe, particularly in Europe, Deere could reap an additional $3 billion in revenue. The worldwide agriculture and turf equipment market is expected to surpass $180 billion, according to research firm Trefis.

While the $3 billion figure could be generous, Deere has let investors know the turf business equipment rebound is real. On its third quarter earnings call, Deere said fiscal 2017 sales of agricultural and turf equipment are forecast to grow about 8 percent versus 2016, driven mainly by overseas sales.

The UN says 70 percent more food will be needed to feed an additional 2.3 billion people around the globe by the year 2050. Farmers, their land, and the environment will be taxed to the limit, unless we start coming up with solutions now. Technology and data are only just starting to play an important role in increasing efficiency, so it’s important that farming methods continue to be refined.

Research firm Trefis says it’s imperative this happen in developing countries, as they’ll face the most pressure from citizens and more demand from other countries.  This will likely “lead to growth in sales of agricultural equipment,” benefiting Deere, Caterpillar, and the other equipment makers, “[stimulating] growth in market size.”

Nearly 70 percent of today’s fresh water is used for crops, livestock grazing, and forestry, meaning supplies for drinking, bathing and other uses are limited.  This is unsustainable as the world’s population swells. Henceforth, it’s up to the equipment makers, along with farmers to continue working on increasing productivity and preserving biodiversity.

Pressing the proverbial gas on investing in sustainable agriculture now will show future generations that these practices are scalable and economically viable. This will likely lead to more sales for related companies as fewer people face famine over time.