The future outlook for agriculture is bright. Food production will have to roughly double by 2050 in order to meet population projections. And if we look where much of that growth is expected to occur–Asia–we know that California farmers and ranchers will have an excellent opportunity to meet the new demand. But there will be challenges, too, as increased food production will have to occur with diminishing arable land suitable for farming, pressures on water quality and availability, potential shortages of mineral inputs, and climate change.
That’s why a pair of reports out of Washington D.C. earlier this month are so important. One, “Enhancing Coexistence,” was delivered to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack by the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. The report addresses coexistence among different types of agricultural systems, including those using genetically engineered materials. Among its recommendations is the need to educate farmers and others in the food and feed production chain about the importance of coexistence. This is especially important in California with an agricultural system that is incredibly diverse. Large farms and small, plants and animals, food and fiber, organic, conventional and biotech. We’re all in this together, and we must all work together to ensure success.
The second report, from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and titled Report to the President on Agricultural Preparedness and the Agricultural Research Enterprise,” discusses the need to increase public investment in research to maintain the United States’ competitive edge in agricultural production. The report prioritizes the primary challenges facing agriculture: invasive species, water efficiency, environmental impacts, climate change, and the need to continue producing safe and nutritious food for consumers domestically and abroad.
The issues addressed in the two reports are inextricably linked. Advances through research advocated by the President’s Council will help us achieve and maintain the coexistence of California’s diverse agricultural bounty. The public investments called for by the Council will leverage the conditions required to meet 21st Century demand here and around the world.
California is blessed with many strategic assets to remain a world leader in agricultural production – a Mediterranean growing climate, deep soils, water availability, and constant innovation and adaptation based on research from our world-class universities. As we prepare to enter a new year, let us now assess how we can work to embrace the exciting opportunities and challenges of the future. The sooner we start, the better positioned we will be to capture the opportunities of the 21st century.