Science needs to spark a bumper harvest
Innovation in agriculture needs to speed up dramatically if food production is to increase to meet the world’s growing needs, writes JOHN REYNOLDS
RADICAL SCIENCE and innovation in farming will be vital to produce the food that the world will need by 2050, the 28th annual symposium of Dunboyne-headquartered animal health and nutrition firm Alltech heard last month.
But as it and other Irish firms such as Glanbia begin to make incremental advances in the kind of smarter and greener beef and dairy farming that will be necessary to meet the appetites of the burgeoning middle classes in China and other rapidly emerging economies, industry experts and executives worry that the pace of innovation to date has been too slow.
Between 70 per cent and 100 per cent more food will be required to feed a world population of nine billion if it continues to rise at the current rate between now and 2050. The key metric, however, is that it will need to be produced by using only half the energy, land and water that is currently required, according to research commissioned by Britain’s chief scientific adviser.
Because of the likely effects of climate change on the availability of water for crops and the rate of development on the availability of arable land in emerging economies over the next 40 years, a farmer currently growing 20 tonnes of wheat on 20 acres would need to grow between 68 and 80 tonnes of wheat on that land by 2050, with no increase in energy and water use during the same period.
“Essentially we have to double food production and speed up science and innovation in this area, and we might fail,” argues Dr Sean Rickard, an agricultural economist based at the UK’s Cranfield University School of Management.
Tom Dorr of the US Grain Council, a non-profit organisation that works on behalf of grain crop producers, adds: “We haven’t put enough RD into the areas of food and agriculture in the past 20 or 30 years. Agriculture is a growing industry so we need much, much more of it.”
“More innovation done by more innovators is required, combined with creativity that we see elsewhere in the food industry, from chefs, for example,” adds Mark Lyons, vice-president for Alltech’s business in China.
With this in mind, household names in the food industry, such as Nestlé and Mars and our own Glanbia, are all pursuing more sustainable production with varying ambitions.