By Kourtney Determan
This post is cross posted on the Alliance to Feed the Future Blog as part of the World Food Day series themed “Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth.”
There are many popular buzzwords in agriculture today. One of the most popular buzzwords is “sustainability.” But before sustainability became popular, the term “stewardship” ruled the roost.
Farmers look for ways to constantly improve their use of resources, because they are stewards of the environment. Farmers know that not only does their livelihood come from natural resources, but they also live and raise families in the communities surrounding their farms. Chicken farmers know that modernization is key to finding better ways to care for the Earth while growing safe and affordable food for everyone.
Modern technologies and practices have brought better genetics, better handling of nutrients, and better overall care for chickens. Through better genetics, technology, and nutrition, birds grow to market weight in a shorter time frame, reducing the need for feed. In 1925, before today’s poultry growing techniques were in place, it took 4.7 pounds of feed to increase the weight of a chicken by one pound. By 2013, that was down to 1.9 pounds.
What does any of this have to do with environmental stewardship?
Consider that poultry feed is made up mostly of corn and soybean meal. This means that 36 billion fewer pounds of corn and 36 billion fewer pounds of soybeans were needed to feed the entire U.S. population. This correlates to a reduction of 4.3 million acres of land needed to grow corn and a reduction of 14.3 million acres of land needed to grow soybeans to fulfill the public’s demand for chicken.
In a nutshell, we’re using 2.5 times LESS land, water, fuel, and feed to produce enough chicken to feed 200 million MORE people.
As environmental science has progressed, farmers – both crop and livestock – have been leaders in adopting best practices, including nutrient management plans that govern the use of manure as fertilizer. Chicken farmers work with other local farmers to make sure chicken manure, called litter, is being used to help the environment. Using chicken litter as a source of nutrients for crops allows farmers to work together to recycle the waste as a natural, organic fertilizer. Using specific plans to time when and how much chicken litter is used is just another way farmers are doing their best to be a stewards of the environment.
There are more than 29,500 chicken farmers in the U.S. today who believe being a steward of the environment is one of the most important parts of raising chickens. Sustainability and caring for the environment is a continuous goal and one that chicken farmers are happy to lead the way.
As Americans become more removed from the farm, we know that it is our responsibility to ensure that there is a continual supply of healthful, wholesome, and safe food – that is produced sustainably – for us to eat.
After all, we live on the same planet and we feed our families the same food.