Future of Agriculture: Daschle looks at the future of the U.S. ag industry
Washington, D.C – With the future of agriculture facing a myriad of challenges moving into the future, former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle noted that farming and food security will be increasingly important in the future.
“Agriculture issues shouldn’t divide us – they should unite us,” Daschle said. “Agricultural issues and food security issues don’t stop at the prairie’s edge. They are national issues. They are global issues.”
“Agricultural issues, I would argue, are increasingly critical and increasingly important,” he added.
Innovation in agriculture made the industry capable of taking on the challenges it has and made the growth of rural America possible, explained Daschle, looking at the John Deere plow as an example.
“Before it, tilling an acre took a grown man a full 24 hours,” he said. “After, it took as little as five, and every pile of soil overturned upended another assumption about what the land could produce.”
“That, to my mind, has been the story, not just of agricultural success, but of national success, and indeed, of global progress,” he continued.
The innovations in agriculture have influenced the industry to make great strides by increasing harvests and breaking the plains to feed the whole world.
“Sometimes, these innovations come from the most advanced science,” Daschle explained. “Other times, they are simple steps and ideas that come from looking at and listening closely to the problem.”
Regardless of their origins, Daschle noted that increases in technology allow agriculturalists to break down barriers to food security and continue progress.
“Today, more than ever, we need those new pathways forward,” Daschle commented.
“Indeed, through science-based technologies, we can innovate to handle severe weather conditions, diminishing resources, postharvest losses and nutritionally insufficient crops,” said Daschle. “The benefits of science and innovation in food and agriculture in its many forms are seen each and every single day.”
However, he also added that innovation is about more than science.
“Sometimes innovation is about creative collaborations and partnerships that provide new perspectives to address complex challenges,” Daschle said. “Innovation also comes in very simple forms that result from new perspectives.”
And in order to accomplish these goals, Daschle marked serious, sustained investment from both public and private sectors going toward research, but it also extends beyond just development.
“The three legs supporting this tripod of innovation are collaboration, education and regulation,” he commented.
By investing and strengthening relationships, working to ensure a global connectivity and pairing those efforts with significant and sustained education, Daschle marked the ability for continued growth.
“We need to bridge the gap between the people who produce food and those who consume it,” he said, also mentioning that challenges for the industry extend beyond education.
Today, in agriculture, Daschle noted that the innovations would help to conquer the mounting challenges facing the world.
Issues such as food shortages, drought, biotechnology concerns and climate change make up only a small piece of the issues in the industry, he said, adding, “It all adds up to a perfect storm of challenges for global food production, and as a result, challenges for our global economy and for global security.”
Citing common statistics that the population will increase by 2 billion people by 2050, Daschle added that the current 7 billion inhabitants use the resources equivalent to those available on a planet and a half – which equates to rapidly rising demand.
“To keep up with this rapidly rising demand, we will need to increase global food production 70 percent by mid-century,” he said, encouraging producers to really think about what that means for the industry.
Daschle noted that the climate and weather issues only serve to make the problem even more severe.
“While some folks may believe that warmer temperatures and more CO2 may actually benefit agriculture, it doesn’t look that way in the long run,” Daschle continued. “Crop yields are down two to three percent globally, and for every one degree Celsius increase in average temperature, yields decrease by an average of five percent.”
Despite the changes in climate that are adding additional production challenges, Daschle said that the country isn’t investing in improvement of agricultural productivity.
“Short-sighted fiscal policies are leading us to slash funding for agriculture research and land grand universities,” Daschle commented. “We’re spending even less on agricultural R&D (research and development) in low-income countries.”
He added, “It’s a perfect storm of pitfalls and of challenges.”
Looking to the future
“Weathering the perfect storm is only possible if we only have the wisdom and the willpower to rethink our approach,” Daschle said.
Moving into the future, Daschle said that the four “D’s” of global engagement – defense, diplomacy, democracy and development – are all impacted by food security.
“Our national security is to a very large extent contingent on our food security,” he commented. “Hunger and poverty trigger political and economic instability, ultimately threatening our global security.”
For example, in 2007 and 2008, he marked rising food prices that led to riots worldwide.
“Food and water scarcity are quickly becoming a leading cause of global instability,” he said, adding, “It’s not just food and water security.”
Today, agriculture plays an integral role in energy security as well, Daschle added, mentioning biofuels and biosecurity.
Additionally, he mentioned that the U.S. should continue to work towards constructive forms of international interaction, noting that food security should be the focus of those interactions.
“What it comes down to is that we need to produce more, higher quality and more nutritious food,” Daschle said, “and we need to become better at moving what we produce, and we need to do so sustainably.”
Daschle spoke at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.