Feeding the World: A Farmer’s Perspective

July 18, 2017

Doug Keesling, Board Member, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)

This opinion piece was originally published by The Hill on June 16, 2017. The original piece can be viewed HERE. Re-published by request of CNFA.

Doug Keesling, CNFA Board Member (Courtesy: CNFA)

Harvest celebrations are as old as agriculture itself. For millennia, these events traditionally have provided the opportunity for communities to celebrate successful growing seasons, and to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

In my case, that means wheat. My family has been growing and harvesting wheat on the Kansas plains for 141 years.

I am a fifth-generation farmer. Right now, I am getting ready to start cutting wheat, wondering which field will be ready to cut first, how many bushels it will yield, and whether the wheat will make high-quality flour. I am wondering how much I will get for my crop — and whether it will be enough to cover my expenses. Amid all this, I wonder if I will get the time to enjoy time with family and friends who help bring in the harvest every year.

The harvest will take several weeks. But some of us will take a few hours away from our fields to attend a modern harvest festival of sorts — the National Festival of Breads — to enjoy the good things that wheat brings to the American diet.

But to me, it’s more than that. I believe all of the festival’s proceedings — a national baking contest, music, food sampling, demonstrations and children’s activities — also serve the same purpose as those ancient harvest festivals: They remind us of how integral food is to our lives, and how it binds all of us together.

For me, that begs bigger questions. It makes me consider my harvest from a broader perspective. It makes me wonder whether this year’s wheat harvest — not just mine, but the world’s — will be sufficient to feed our growing global population for another year.

It reminds me that American farmers — who use the latest technologies and techniques to maximize the quality and yield of their plantings — have a responsibility to share that expertise with farmers around the world who are striving merely to produce enough for their families and communities. It reminds me that our nation has a moral responsibility to help those in less fortunate countries feed themselves.

Doug Keesling on his wheat farm in Kansas (Courtesy: CNFA)

As a wheat farmer, I know that a single bushel of wheat packs a lot of nutrition — the equivalent of about 70 1-lb. loaves of bread. At the same time, I know that the same bushel of wheat contains about one million seeds. That single bushel of seeds represents a lot of opportunity — especially when married to the right technologies and techniques.

That’s why here in Kansas, many wheat farmers like myself are working with trade organizations and nonprofit groups to educate consumers, lawmakers and others in the agricultural community on the importance — and benefits — of sharing our knowledge to help feed the rest of the world.

Sometimes, we travel to Washington, D.C., to educate members of Congress. We show them how U.S. international development projects not only help poor nations gain food security — but also help to develop economies that can generate future customers for U.S. goods. We show them how increasing food security helps head off political instability in fragile nations — and in the process improve our own national security.

While we help to educate these folks at home, some of our most important work comes when we work directly with farmers in the world’s poorer regions.

I have traveled to Ethiopia, Cuba, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East to teach farmers better farming techniques. During those trips, I delivered technical knowledge. But I also came back with cultural knowledge, and a better understanding that we are all in this together.

And I — like others involved in this effort — have learned what it is to be a good world citizen. And that working to feed the world is a necessary and rewarding part of that.

That is a true cause for celebration.

Doug Keesling is the owner of Keesling Farms in Chase, Kan., past chairman of the Kansas Wheat cooperative and a member of the board of directors for Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), an international non-profit that builds local partnerships to help feed the world’s growing demand for food.