Technology a ‘significant asset’ in food production

The global food supply needs to increase substantially in the next 40 years, but the resources for such an increase in production will be the same or less, so producers will need technology. The following article was featured in Feedstuffs FoodLink and quotes my graduate major professor at K-State, Ted Schroeder.

(3/26/2010) Rod Smith

Food producers will be especially challenged in the next 40 years to produce enough food — including milk, meat and poultry — from a base of land, water and other resources that won’t be any greater than today’s and likely will be less, according to agricultural economists and scientists.

The challenge will be to increase food production to feed a global population that will increase 50% to 9 billion people by 2050, according to those experts. (It’s estimated that the world’s food supply needs to double by 2050.)

Agricultural economist Ted Schroeder at Kansas State University recently noted that food prices already have increased significantly, that food scarcity in countries as developed as Argentina and those still developing already has led to social unrest and that the world’s growing population has raised the issue of what will be needed to feed the world in the future.

In response, technology will become “a significant asset,” Schroeder said.

He said technology is not “a magic wand” but can contribute substantially to increasing food production. For instance, he cited how Iowa’s corn yields leaped past Europe’s when Iowa corn growers started to plant genetically modified, yield-enhancing corn varieties, which European governments have shunned.

“It shows so starkly what technology can do to increase food production with the same fixed-asset base,” Schroeder said in remarks to Kansas State’s Cattlemen’s Day earlier this month.

The discovery, development and adoption of technology will be “huge” in containing food prices, producing enough food to feed the world and deciding who will produce that food where, he said.

Genetic modification of crops isn’t a new technology but is a model for gains in other areas, including livestock and poultry, Schroeder said.

Any technology that increases the ability to know and predict how an animal or plant is likely to react to a stimulus or any technology that targets meat, milk and other food attributes will make “a substantial difference in providing affordable, high-quality and safe food” to a growing population around the world, he said.

One of the biggest challenges to discovery, development and adoption is reduced support for public research and development, Schroeder said, although private investment in research, if given profit incentives, can fill in and grow rapidly.

The evidence of the importance of technology in feeding the world “is so dramatic that we had better make sure we support (public and private) research and that we don’t put unfounded political and social impediments” in the way, he said.

“If we put up political and social barricades to food production technology,” Schroeder warned, the world’s ability to produce food will be exhausted, and “food prices will be so high that people will rebel” in many locations — not just in poor or developing countries.

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