The agriculture industry has always been an agent of innovation and improvement. Over the last 10,000-plus years, after the dawn of crop and animal production as a food source among human communities to supplement hunting and gathering, those who work the land have explored and developed ways to increase their yields to feed a growing population.
Now in the 21st century, the demand for new ideas could not be more important. The advancements needed to produce enough food for a global population expected to grow by a whopping 26 percent – to 9.7 billion people – in just the next 30 years, must be accomplished with increasingly limited resources.
As has been well documented in the last decade, the viability of those resources required to meet the ever-expanding need for safe and affordable food, feed, fiber and energy is being challenged by the growing threat posed by a changing climate. Shifts in our environment and the increasing radicalization of weather that can now impair food production is putting a premium on efforts to step up and meet the ever-growing challenges to meeting our needs.
Those who recognize the impending dangers to the way we raise crops and livestock were heartened when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the launch of a department-wide initiative designed to align assets, programs and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands, including those raised by climate change.
In addition to bolstering U.S. agriculture’s capacity to produce adequate food for an exploding global population, Perdue said the so-called ag “innovation agenda” aims to enable American growers to increase production by 40 percent while cutting the sector’s environmental footprint in half by 2050.
In an op-ed appearing last Friday in the Des Moines Register, Perdue said the strategy aligns and synchronizes public and private ag research, supports the work of USDA customer service agencies and integrates innovative technologies and practices into its programs. He promised to strengthen the department’s productivity and conservation data to better understand and share successes; ensure regulations are “consistent and efficient for agricultural products”; and establish benchmarks to make sure the department is achieving the goals being set.
Perdue can honor this commitment by prioritizing and funding system level, integrated climate research, including social science research to better enable knowledge sharing among and between farmers. With more funds and staff, NRCS can assist farmers with much needed technical assistance and adaptation planning. He can also empower, through sufficient funding and support, USDA’s Climate Hubs to deliver science-based, region-specific tools to enable climate-informed decision-making.
Perdue’s announcement of the initiative was a high point of the USDA-hosted 96th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. Also speaking at the forum as a panel member at the plenary session, Jeff Broin, founder and CEO of POET (the world’s largest producer of biofuels) talked about the key role of agriculture and biofuels in mitigating the devastating effects of climate change.
Tracking the panel’s theme, “Innovation as a Solution for Farmers,” Broin said that since the company’s inception in 1987, POET’s mission “has centered on developing technologies to efficiently produce sustainable biofuels…to clean the air and reverse the dangerous impacts of climate change.”
He told his Outlook audience that his company “maintains a commitment to using innovation to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and petroleum-based products,” arguing that “climate change is a crisis facing the world today, not generations from now, and the world needs practical solutions to combat the problem as quickly as possible.”
The remarks from Broin and others recognize that those who work the land and serve in the industry’s supply chain have a limitless capacity for meeting the challenges that could threaten adequate agricultural production. SfL commends USDA’s initiative to help producers take on those challenges, improve the sustainability of their operations, adapt to changing climatic conditions and reduce or sequester their greenhouse gases.
USDA’s efforts represent only one example of the public and private sector actions that can be taken to help unlock agriculture’s full potential. SfL welcomes the opportunity to work with USDA and other partners to inspire, educate and equip agricultural leaders to innovate and spur others to sustain productivity, enhance climate resilience, and contribute to local and global goals for sustainable development.