Many problems could be good | TSLN.com

Many problems could be good

Jack Whittier
Director, UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

During the early years of my university career, I traveled with two university colleagues from another state on a circuit of extension meetings. I've never forgotten one of the slides shown by one of these colleagues. It read, "A country that has lots of food has lots of problems; however, a country that has little food has only one problem."

This past couple of weeks I have seen the beet and bean harvest in full swing here in the Panhandle, and once again have been amazed at the ability of agricultural producers in this country to produce food. America has the safest, most nutritious food supply in the world. Plus, on average, we spend less than 10 percent of our disposable income to feed ourselves. Again, this is the lowest percentage of any country.

Another important point to consider is the vast range of food choices available to us. Improvements in transportation, storage and food handling processes have made it commonplace to have fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable foods available during most every season. This advantage extends to consumer choices. Consumers in every state can readily find foods produced conventionally, so-called naturally, or organically.

In my opinion, the availability of a wide array of food choices is a wonderful benefit that has resulted from advancements in food production made possible by research and education performed, supported or facilitated by land-grant universities like the University of Nebraska. The Panhandle Research and Extension Center is a key component of this progress, in cooperation with growers, allied industries, food processors and marketers.

The giant strides made in food-production efficiency in this country over the last century came dramatically home to me recently, when I witnessed a grower harvesting sugar beets near Bridgeport with the latest equipment that topped, dug, shook dirt off, and loaded high-yielding beets for transport – all in one pass across the field. Later, I attended the beet harvest demonstration at Legacy of the Plains Museum, where horse-drawn, one-row antique equipment was harvesting beets with lots of hand labor involved in the harvest process. I could not help but think about how far we have come over this span of time. The ingenuity and productivity of farmers was certainly evident in seeing these two ends of the spectrum within a few short days.

Reflecting back on the statement by my extension colleague mentioned at the beginning, I can't help but think how ready access to food has changed our society. No longer do we spend most of our time or money searching for enough to eat. This allows us to focus our efforts toward other pursuits.

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Some might respond that having an abundant food supply has been detrimental to society, since we now have many problems to contend with. However, I'm not one of them. I'm grateful for the development of food-production technologies that provide lots of food. And while having more time and money may have facilitated, in some ways, having more problems, the prospect of only having one problem – not enough food to eat each day – is much less desirable.

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