There’s a good reason there isn’t ample research to support modern cotton production. Take a look at the number of people working on cotton 10-12 years ago at land-grant universities, compared to now. 

“A good rule of thumb is that it takes 8-10 years to get well-validated research results to commercial agriculture. We are now seeing the negative results of cutting back research programs a decade or more ago.” He says

Seed companies, crop protection companies, well-trained crop consultants and farm equipment manufacturers do their best to provide as much information as they can about their products to growers.

Despite their best of intentions to help growers, these companies are driven by profit and their research and development budgets often are stretched every bit as thin as those of ag programs in land-grant universities.

Auburn University Dean Bill Batchelor says when he began his academic career as a student in ag engineering at the University of Georgia, the world produced more food than it needed. Now, he says we are rapidly reaching the point of not being able to produce enough food for the world.

“A typical career for an agricultural scientist at a land-grant university is 30-35 years, or about the same time I’ve been a student, then faculty member.

“Over the next 30-35 years, the world will move from 6.8 billion people to nine billion people. More than 70 percent of people worldwide will live in cities over the next 30-40 years,” he says.

“In 2010 — just one year — a million people a day moved from rural parts of the world into cities. All these people will look to agriculture for food,” he adds.

“At a time when the world needs more and more food each year, reductions in agriculture research, teaching and Extension funds makes it harder and harder for us to provide the information growers need to increase food production,” Batchelor says.

Each of the deans speaking at the peanut meeting in Florida told similar tales of trying to balance a broad-based basic research program geared to finding and solving long-term agricultural challenges, with funding a similarly broad-based applied research program geared to providing immediate information to solve ongoing production challenges.

Cutting the basic research program back stymies the ability to compete for high dollar research grants and to provide the building blocks needed to solve ongoing everyday production problems of the future. Cutting back applied programs leaves an immediate lack of information on things like burrower bugs in peanuts and split bolls in cotton.

The sad reality is that changing the direction in which agriculture programs at land-grant universities is heading will almost certainly have to happen at the grass roots level.

Even sadder is that it will likely take catastrophic shortages to change the way we produce food, much like it took catastrophic economic losses to change our banking system.

rroberson@farmpress.com