Farming practices get better every year — but are we improving fast enough?

If you ask consumers, our food system is bad and getting worse. But if you look back and compare to say the 1980s, we’re actually doing a much better job on many things, such as water and fertiizer efficiency, pesticide use, and more. It’s all a matter of perspective – things are getting better, but are they getting better fast enough?

Jack Bobo, a food evangelist and senior vice president with Intrexon Corporation, says that food is critical to our survival, but producing food comes at a cost. The conundrum we face is how do we make sure we’re feeding ourselves while also having the least negative impact on the environment? That’s the very key to “sustainable” food production, but, the problem is, consumers, farmers, and policy makers can’t agree on what the term “sustainable” even means.

There are different ways to gauge how well we’re doing, Bobo says, but there are some things we can agree on being universally bad, such as deforestation in South America (done to support what Bobo calls “low productivity” farming).

“The choices we make at home have implications in other countries,” he says. For example, the U.S.’s main exports are corn, soybean, and wheat. “What’s Europe’s main exports? Beer, wine, whisky, and cheese,” meaning that one of the toughest talkers on environment and sustainability — Europe — is also a huge supporter of low productivity farming, resulting in a net negative impact on our global environmental report card.

There’s a disconnect, Bobo says, between what consumers say they want, what they ask for, and the mechanisms by which farmers can achieve those things. Consumers want affordable food, but at the same time want farmers to use fewer pesticides. They don’t seem to realize that, in most cases, the two things are mutually exclusive.

In the discussion below, Bobo joins RealAgriculture founder Shaun Haney to talk about sustainability, “factory farming” and lab meat, beef’s undue reputation, and more:

See more videos from FarmTech here.