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Caitlin Grieve

Farming for the future

By Caitlin Grieve, Ballarat Grammar

‘We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.’

This quote is from a 1932 essay by Winston Churchill, analysing how the world would look 50 years from then. Today, fulfilling Churchill’s vision, farmers and scientists are now looking at more creative approaches to food production, such as entomophagy, which is insect-eating, and fake meat.

Where we set our sights regarding the future of food production in an over-populated and swiftly warming world is crucial. As someone raised on a farm, I want to pursue agriculture, using it to address global food security issues.

Now, I live on a prime lamb farm, so what I’m about to say pains me greatly ...

We can no longer pin our optimism – as we have done in years past – on the sheep’s back.

When the population of the world is predicted to exceed 9.5 billion people by 2050, farmers will be presented with the issue of producing enough meat, not only to provide for Australia, but also to meet international demands. It’s estimated that livestock production must increase by 70 per cent in less than 50 years, causing scientists to question how we will produce enough meat. We must now look to new ventures that could perhaps solve the questions surrounding what we will consume and how it’s produced.

How does stir-fried cricket sound to you? No? What about Asian-style noodles with locusts, sautéed in ... wait for it ... maggot fat?

With the future of traditional sources of protein looking dim, a new, sustainable, but somewhat unusual option may be coming to our menus, entomophagy. In other words, insect-eating!

Though you and I may cringe away from a dish of crickets or a bowl of slug soup, entomophagy is as old as human existence and, today, around 2.5 billion people consume roughly 2000 different species of bugs.

In Vincent Holt’s 1885 booklet Why not Eat Insects? we are told to get over our ‘stupid prejudices’ and focus on the benefits eating insects can provide. Some benefits include protein and vitamins. Insects not only convert feed into protein faster than cattle or sheep, but also contain key requirements of zinc, iron and Vitamin A.  Considering three billion people have zinc and iron deficiencies and a quarter of a million lack sufficient Vitamin A, insects could be the key food we need in our diets.

It is important to note that many insects are resistant to drought, meaning that when droughts do occur, with increasing harshness and prevalence, it will be less of a gamble to know whether there will be enough food produced for affected countries.

As a future farmer, my question is: will I be farming insects, struggling to contain jumping bugs within paddocks?

You may think I’m joking. Just picture it for a moment, not farmers chasing bugs around paddocks with butterfly nets, but instead farmers kicking back and letting paddock-sized nets do the work for them.

Now bug farming may not be the next big thing in Australia, but in South-East Asia farmers, in trying to find a sustainable way to reduce pesticides, have started harvesting insects to supply market demand. To do this, well they really do use paddock-sized nets, spread across the crops, then rolled up, with the insects trapped inside. This incredibly simple solution benefits the land, the farmers, the consumers, everyone.

Except, that is, the insects.

This method of pest control and food production means that luckily for the entomophagists out there, there are more than enough bugs for everyone!

However, if switching from sausages to bugs isn’t really your cup of tea, there is another sustainable option scientists are currently developing in laboratories

Fake meat is the term given to lab-grown meats. The ability to grow meat in a laboratory is looked at by scientists as the second agricultural revolution. In a report by Marty McCarthy for Landline, scientists are developing these lab-meats from a serum known as FBS – Foetal Bovine Serum – and the muscle fibres of calves.

The most promising possibility lab grown meat presents to scientists is its ability to help the environment. As scientists will be able to produce three times the amount of meat obtained from one animal, the livestock population will eventually decline, benefitting the environment.

Another method of producing fake meat seems to have come right out of The Jetsons or Star Trek. 3D printing. Scientists are looking at how to sustainably use the whole animal, therefore reducing waste and they think they’ve found a solution.

By collecting the offcuts and less valuable cuts of meat, scientists are working on turning them into a form of ink that can then print a whole cut of meat, such as a fillet or a steak. This gives both the farmer and the consumer more bang for their buck, while reducing waste.

Both of these methods are predicted to significantly reduce livestock populations, turning traditional meat production into a viable clean meat industry. Fake meat has been dubbed ‘clean’ meat because, unlike beef, pork or lamb, fake meat doesn’t produce greenhouse gasses. These greenhouse gasses are a consistent concern for scientists monitoring the growing demands of our population upon our resources. So to many, fake meat seems to be a logical and sustainable transition to make.

As Australians we will still be able to enjoy the taste, texture and flavour of a Sunday roast that, if undercooked, will bleed fake blood. It is undeniable that it will be close to impossible to increase meat production by 70 per cent in less than 50 years. So a future of petri dish patties and cell-formed sausages should be embraced.

As a future farmer, my second question is: will my future be in a laboratory rather than the paddock?

We have a moral obligation to dedicate ourselves to planning now. How are we going to approach a future full of demands regarding food production? We must consider new angles in order to provide for our ever-expanding population.

I don’t know where the future of agriculture lies, whether we’ll begin to be a bug-consuming population, or dig into fake meat so real we won’t know the difference. I plan on pursuing agricultural science, to ensure a global agricultural development helping to shape a stable future for our world.