Agricultural innovation - Planting the seeds for a sustainable future
By Sec. Michael Scuse
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Following are remarks delivered at the U.S.A. Pavilion, Milan Expo, October,8th, 2015 by Michael Scuse, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, USDA.When we talk sustainability, I think we can all agree that the challenges before us are daunting-a growing world population, a diminishing natural resource base, a changing climate and a mounting demand for energy.
Whether speaking as a policymaker or as a farmer, I have a clear and simple message for you: Embracing innovation and making decisions based on sound science is the only way we can confront these challenges.
All countries must be willing to provide an environment that facilitates sustainable development. This includes progressive, science-based policies that enable the creation and commercialization of innovative products and technologies.
Over the last 100 years in the United States, we've moved from subsistence farming to an agricultural industry that makes us one of the world's largest food exporters. This evolution was not pre-ordained. American farmers adapted and changed and embraced new ideas and practices to become more productive.
And looking ahead, further increases in agricultural productivity will depend upon further investment in research - as well as an openness to new ideas and practices. A range of innovations will be needed to meet the growing needs of the global population and to make agriculture more efficient in its use of resources.
I am proud that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding and participating in research that is delivering results for people around the globe. We are improving agricultural productivity by creating crops that better tolerate drought, disease, pests and salinity. We are studying pre- and post-harvest technologies to reduce crop losses. And we are looking to understand factors that go into nutrition in order to provide a better, safer, healthier diet for future generations.
Improved understanding of genetics is not just changing what we plant, but is also essential if we are to meet the growing global demand for protein - a demand that is being driven by a growing middle class. We must continue to encourage the development of new technologies to improve animal genetics, prevent and eliminate animal diseases, improve feed conversion efficiency, and boost meat and milk production in livestock worldwide.
As farmers and ranchers worldwide strive to produce more, we must also confront the uncertainty of global climate change and the constraints of limited water resources. However, higher productivity need not come at the expense of our natural resources. U.S. farmers and ranchers have proven this. In the last 30 years alone, USDA has worked to help producers reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent. Agriculture has gone from being the leading cause of wetlands loss to being the nation's leader in wetlands restoration efforts.
The solution to global food security need not - and should not - sacrifice efforts to conserve our natural resources and take care of our environment. That's why scientists are working on technologies and methods to use water more efficiently, to improve soil conservation, and increase productivity of the soil itself.
The United States government is committed to collaborating with other countries to address 21st century challenges in agriculture and to make a better future for all. We recognize and respect that different countries will take different routes, but the policies of one country or countries should not take away the choices of another country or its citizens, especially in the developing world, where the impacts of climate and food insecurity are felt most.
Consumers will always have the choice of what - or what not - to buy. But in negotiating trade agreements, and in setting international standards, questions about product safety and market access need to be based on scientific evidence, not the latest consumer trends.
We've got a long way to go to face the challenge of producing sustainably for a world populated by more than 9 billion human beings. No one person and no one country can do it alone. It will take all of us.
Michael T. Scuse is Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, USDA. Before joining USDA, Scuse was Secretary of Agriculture for Delaware and also served as Chief of Staff under Governor Minner. Scuse has a long career of public service.
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