Could technology and innovation in agriculture feed the world?

For Nebraska farmer Brandon Hunnicutt, thirty years of innovations in drought and pest-resistant seed varieties and precision agriculture have enabled him to grow more with less impact. And, he says, such innovation is key to a sustainable future.

“I am struck by the essential task in front of all of us to unlock the next suite of innovations to ensure we continue to yield equal value for farmers and nature,” he writes in (4) Agri-Pulse.

He believes that progress and ultimate success in solving the climate crisis lies in “learning together, mobilizing more capital to support farmers in the transition, and pursuing solutions that create wins for farmers, business, society and the planet.”

From the lab to the field

In line with Brandon Hunnicutt’s vision, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its agencies fund ongoing research to support US farmers while providing a wide range of advisory services to help translate this research into practical reality.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), for example, not only invests in research in areas as diverse as plant and animal breeding, genetics, biosecurity, and climate-smart practices. It also supports extension and advisory services that share the knowledge garnered from this research directly with the farmers who can put it into practice.

Technology innovation is high on NIFA’s agenda, as reflected in its recent (5) investment of nearly $4 million in two new ‘Centers of Excellence’ at universities which are part of the 1890 Land Grants Institutions National Program. (6) The funding will support projects to advance smart agriculture and promote its adoption among small and minority farmers, conserve and promote natural resources, and explore renewable energy. Other NIFA innovation programs range from (7) critical research into new crop varieties with better productivity, quality, and tolerance of environmental variability, to (8) research to better understand, diagnose, control, and prevent diseases in agricultural animals and aquaculture.

Consumer understanding – the missing piece

If we are to feed the world’s growing population without depleting natural resources, research such as that funded by USDA and NIFA will be vital. But just as important is the need to advance consumer understanding of technology and why farmers use it. Speaking on the (9) This is US Sustainability podcast, North Dakota soybean farmer Monte Peterson shared his theory that as generations go on, society has become further and further removed from the farm, which is how misunderstanding can creep in. “But I think it’s important for each of us as consumers to follow sound science,” he says, “to reach out to those that are in production agriculture, and ask questions, to learn about how our food is made today, and how it is done.” The hope is that a greater understanding of farmers’ practices will ease fears of what might be new but is definitely needed.

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