sealPurdue News

November 1997

Purdue forecasts food systems for the next century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Faculty in the Purdue University School of Agriculture give a better-than-educated guess of what the future holds for American food and fiber industries with a new book and video set entitled "FoodSystem 21: Gearing Up for the New Millennium."

Purdue agricultural economist Mike Boehlje calls it "a frank and brutal look" at where farms, input suppliers, processors and consumers are heading.

"Everyone in agriculture will be able to find themselves in this book," Boehlje says. "No punches are pulled."

Boehlje says 50 Purdue professors and others in agricultural economics, animals sciences, horticulture, food science and other disciplines not only determine trends and where the industry might be headed, they also provide details on what it means for individual parts of the human food chain. Each chapter went through extensive review by industry leaders.

The idea, he says, is for each reader to evaluate the scenarios laid out by the book, anticipate what it could mean for his or her business or operation, and either try to shape the industry or the operation to "survive and thrive."

"Our hope is people will take the material and use it to plan improvements if they choose to compete in the future," Boehlje says. "For instance, a Midwest dairy producer shouldn't try so hard to get the price of milk raised. With current government policies, it's not going to happen. Also, with dairy herds of 2,000-plus head concentrating in the West, Midwest producers will need to manage their business to become a low-cost competitor."

While the authors steadfastly refused to make recommendations in the book, Boehlje says he personally has taken some lessons for his family's crop and livestock farm back in Iowa.

"On the hog side, our operation is going to have to decide if we're willing to enter into some network arrangement or grow big enough to incorporate some of the new technologies in pork production. If not, we're going to have to think about a smart exit," he says. "On the crop side, we need to decide whether we want to stay in the commodity business or move to characteristic-specific crops, which would require a new set of additional skills."

"The big lesson from the 452-page book is 'Don't be myopic,'" Boehlje says. "A grain farmer needs to know what the hog producer is going through, and they both better know what is going on with the consumer who is going to buy from here and abroad."

A few highlights:

Wally Tyner, head of Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics, calls it the most broad-based studies of the future of agriculture to date, more comprehensive than the Ag 2000 study the department completed five years ago: "One major difference is more emphasis on interpreting consumer trends and applying them all the way back to the farm gate," he says.

Nearly a year in development, "FoodSystem 21: Gearing Up for the New Millennium" debuted at Purdue's Center for Agricultural Business' 1997 National Conference for Agribusiness Nov. 10-11. Other presentations will follow throughout 1998. The material also has been presented to senior U.S. Foreign Service administrators who work with developing countries.

The book without the video costs $29.95, from the Purdue Media Distribution Center, 301 S. Second St., Lafayette, IN, 47901-1232, (888) EXT-INFO. The videos will be offered separately through CAB. For more information on the videos, contact Sharon Wall at (765) 494-4247.

CONTACT: Boehlje, (765) 494-4222; e-mail,

Compiled by Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; E-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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