Is Iowa doing its share in feeding the world?

Disclaimer: The values represented are mixed between real values and conservative values to provide an estimate in determining Iowa’s food production. All values are open for discussion and criticism that any reader finds necessary to discuss. 

One class I am taking this semester is Soil Conservation and Land Use. The primary issue we are addressing right now is if Iowa is doing its part in feeding the world. Currently, Iowa consists of approximately 1-2% of the United State’s population, but it produces about 9% of U.S. food production. Iowa is also the leading producer of corn, pork, and eggs, and is second in soybean production. Clearly, Iowa’s production records show tenacity with producing food for the United States and the world over the decades. However, is there a way Iowa’s production can numerically show if it is doing its share in feeding the world? Well, we could look at calories, the primary determinant for calculating nutritional needs. 

With looking at crops, in 2019, Iowa produced 13.1 million acres of corn while yielding an average of 198 bushels per acre. Calculated with pounds, grams, and calories, we can figure Iowa produced approximately 243 trillion calories of corn in 2019. Using similar calculations for soybeans, small grains, local food crops, etc., we calculated that Iowa made about 370 trillion calories of the produced crop last year. 

To figure out how many people are fed, we used a conservative number of 2,000 calories consumed each day by one person, or 730,000 calories per year. After that, we concluded that Iowa fed 500,000,000 people, or 6% of the world’s population, in 2019, but what is the problem here? 

Our calculations only account for only feeding vegetarians that consume 2,000 calories per day. It does not account for other factors. Some corrections we discussed in class included: 

  • Some of the crops go towards animal feed
  • Crops used for ethanol production
  • Post-harvest does come with some losses
  • Not all humans consume 2,000 calories per day (some eat more, and some eat less)

Unfortunately, feeding animals for meat production is extremely inefficient, especially beef. It takes ten calories of feed to produce one calorie of meat for slaughter. Iowa’s ethanol industry is also growing significantly, working to provide a greener fuel option for Iowa and the world. This industry utilizes a significant amount of corn to produce ethanol. Furthermore, after correcting losses and the number of calories consumed per day, Iowa may only be feeding about 60 million people or 1% of the world’s population while taking a wild guess. 

Another factor that I want to include is the longevity of current farming practices. While many farmers push for sustainability, some implementations can lead to land degradation that creates barriers to efficiently producing food in the years to come. 

With all this information, we come back to the ultimate question; is Iowa doing its share in feeding the world? We can see that the state can produce food for more people than it contains. However, even though it can produce the amount that it is now, will Iowa be efficiently and cleanly producing more food in the next 50-100 years? 

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