Efficiency, in my opinion, is what made our country so dominant in the past. The productivity that comes from American companies innovating new ways to do more with less is what spurred our international success.
However, somehow, efficiency has become a dirty word when it comes to food and agriculture. There's a scene in Food, Inc. where the narrator talks about McDonald's revolutionizing the way hamburgers were made by bringing efficiencies such as training to do just one thing to the back of the restaurant. "It was inexpensive food, and it tasted good," the narrator says - like that's a bad thing.
I propose that turning away from efficiency when it comes to agriculture is not just regressive but also dangerous. Just 1/32 of the earth’s surface is arable land we can depend on to produce food. This is a finite resource – one that is decreasing with urban sprawl. Additionally, this land is going to have to feed a rapidly growing world population.
Feeding more people with less land? Sounds like efficiency is going to have to play a pretty big role.
Critics of modern agriculture claim current mass production practices are wasteful. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Being efficient means doing more with less – which includes using less environmental resources. A recent study backs this up.
According to the study released last month, advances in productivity over the past 30 years have reduced the carbon footprint of modern beef production in the U.S. The study was conducted by Washington State University assistant professor Jude Capper and compared the environmental profile of the U.S. beef industry in 2007 to its historical production practices in 1977.
Capper’s research revealed improvements in nutrition, management, growth rate and processing weights significantly have reduced the environmental impact of modern beef production and improved its sustainability.
Another study shows the dairy industry reduced its overall carbon footprint by 41 percent from 1944 and 2007. Improved efficiency has enabled the U.S. dairy industry to produce 186 billion pounds of milk from 9.2 million cows in 2007, compared to only 117 billion pounds of milk from 25.6 million cows in 1944.