Research leader says innovation needed to meet global challenges
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
ST.LOUIS, MO , September 11, 2013-Monsanto's chief technology officer told a gathering of U.S. ag leaders, investors and innovators that agriculture is at the center of significant global trends that include not only food security, the demand for healthier diets and the development of sustainable, renewable fuels, but also concerns over decreasing water supplies and climate change.
“You can view yourself in the crosshairs” posed by the trending issues, or “as part of the solution set,” Robert Fraley told an audience at the Ag Innovation Showcase at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis Tuesday.
Fraley, a 2013 World Food Prize Laureate for research he and his teams pioneered in plant biotechnology and its application to advanced breeding and crop improvement techniques, said there are “tremendous business opportunities” to be realized in the use of agricultural technology on a global scale.
But he cautioned that innovation must increase in agriculture to keep up with the demand projected by a global population that is now expected to rise from a current 7.1 billion people to as many as 10 billion in less than 40 years.
Citing a gap between agricultural production and need, Fraley said he used to believe that the world would need to double food production by 2050. “That now appears to be an underestimate,” he said.
Still, going forward, agricultural interests must understand the impact food and meat production has on the environment, Fraley said.
“If a farmer has a choice of feeding his family or cutting down a tree, the tree is going to lose every time,” he said.
The challenge for agriculture is to fully use the technologies that are available and those that are being developed to keep production sustainable and protect the environment, he said.
Sustainable ag technologies in particular could create solutions for farmers t, Fraley said. He cited the increase in yields that come from cross-breeding, biotechnology that enhances a crop's traits, the derivation of biological advantages through natural materials that support plant health and pest protection, and the optimization of practices such as crop rotation, soil management and cover crops.
Fraley also said agricultural technology can help growers adapt to a changing climate, noting that “two, or three, or four degrees in temperature change can be accommodated through the appropriate location of breeding programs.” Technology can help mitigate the effects of changing climate conditions, including weeds, insects, diseases and drought, he said.
He said collaborations among agricultural stakeholders, researchers, businesses and venture capitalists are essential to a growth of agriculture to meet global challenges ahead. He added technological advances in seemingly disparate areas such as seeds, farm equipment and land management practices must be integrated to successfully feed the world.
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