Jack's Insights November 2017

Food and football

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

If you have lived in Nebraska very long - or for that matter, if you have even a vague familiarity with Nebraska – you likely associate two things with this state, food and football.  At first you may think of corn and cattle rather than directly thinking of the word food; however, I suggest the production of food is as much a hallmark of Nebraska as is football, and that corn and cattle are the two big components of that food production.

Dr. Jack Whittier

I was reminded of this incredible ability Nebraska has to produce food during a recent visit to Adams Land and Cattle Co. in Broken Bow, Neb. – one of the top 15 cattle-feeding business in the world.  Several of the leadership from UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), a few faculty from UNL Animal Science, and some others had the opportunity to spend a good share of the day discussing cattle, crop and food production systems in Nebraska while with the Adams group.  There was even a few comments about football – not surprising.

During our visit to the Adams business, I was once again stuck by the tremendous capacity we have to convert the enormous natural resources in this state into food.  The image of the parade of grain trucks from local farmers delivering corn to be immediately converted into a gigantic mountain of high-moisture corn to be fed to the cattle is indelibly etched in my mind.  This image, coupled with the highly organized system to assemble and deliver diets to the high quality cattle in their feedlot, was impressive.

My experience at Adams made me recall other times I have had the privilege of seeing just how innovative and ingenious agricultural producers and supporting industries are at producing high- quality food – and at an relatively small cost, compared to other countries. To emphasis this even further, I quote from one of my earlier “Jack’s Insight” column printed in April 2016.

“As Americans we spend a very small portion of our income on food. Between 1960 and 2007, the share of disposable personal income spent on total food by Americans fell from 17.5 to 9.6 percent, according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Another statistic of interest is the change in eating at home or away from home. In 2013, Americans spent 5.6 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food at home and 4.3 percent on food away from home. In either case, we spend less than 10 percent of our disposable income on food – less than a penny from every dime we have to spend!  One of the primary reasons for this is due to decades of agricultural research and extension education from institutions like the University of Nebraska.”

It may be said that Nebraska football has had better seasons than they are experiencing currently.  However, it is hard to argue with the success of Nebraska agriculture’s ability to produce food to assist in feeding the expected 9 billion people on earth by 2050.  Plus, who knows, the Huskers’ football team may have turned the corner by then as well.