What is in this article?:
- Two billion more mouths to feed by 2040.
- With shrinking budgets, where should agricultural research focus be?
- Public sector scientists say biotechnology promises are too often overblown leading to underfunding of conventional agricultural research.
Cassman, too, points out the problem with adequate farm acreage. “All of the good farmland in the world is currently being used in agriculture. The remaining land that we might consider is under rainforests, wetlands or grassland savannahs in places like Africa. Those are also among the last refuges for wildlife and biodiversity.”
Also consider that cities are expanding everywhere. “So, we’re losing some of the best farmland that surrounds cities.
“Even if your goal is to produce the food needed between now and 2050 (when there will be more than 9 billion people) on existing farmland, you’re actually admitting there will be about 150 million acres of new farmland to replace that lost to urbanization and industrialization. If the world says ‘we need to protect as much of the rainforests, wetlands and grassland savannahs as possible by holding agriculture to existing farmland,’ we’re already conceding the need to expand farmland lost to cities.”
Sinclair returns to the politics of agricultural research funding that has “shifted dramatically to funding biotech approaches. That’s because of the advertised promise of huge yield gains.
“The cold-blooded view is that those claims simply can’t be true. It’s like building a racing Ferrari and then not having any gasoline to put in it.
“We’re arriving at the point where plants are incapable of taking up and storing more nitrogen during vegetative growth for later use in supporting seed growth. The same is true with how plants use water. We can tweak things and still push (yields) up 10 to 25 percent. But there will be no doubling. There just isn’t the water to do it. We need to get a grasp on all this and face reality.”
The good news, says Cassman, is that the agricultural industry has the ability to deliver food “in amounts that boggle the mind. They’ll have to do it on a limited land resource with declining supplies of available water. We can do it. But the only way is to clearly assess where we should be investing limited research dollars.”