Food producers under pressure from expanding population

Halen Doughty

Food producers are facing even more pressure with the world's population growing at a rapid pace. The global population is expected to soar over 9 billion by 2050, and there's fewer food growers than ever.

That was the message delivered at the Farm & Table New Orleans conference on September 8. John Purcell, vice president and global vegetables research and development lead with Monsanto, said less than 2 percent of the US population is on the farm, down from 40 percent a hundred years ago.

"The folks who have it on their shoulders is a smaller and smaller sliver of society," Purcell said.

Purcell said we need to support agriculture at all levels. That includes chefs, growers, and food packers. He said a lot of food is left in the field because it's not "on spec," adding that we've become spoiled as consumers.

State agriculture and forestry commissioner Dr. Mike Strain said we need to double food production by the year 2050 to meet the growing demand. Production must increase 50 percent by the year 2030 to keep up with the pace of the population.

"Agriculture production has got to accelerate worldwide to meet that demand. We've fallen short each year in catching up to have enough food for the world," Strain said.

Strain said that's why new innovative technology will be essential to keeping the people fed. Between a growing global population and a diminishing number of farmers, technology is our best hope of making sure everyone has food on the table.  

"There are fewer farmers, and farming is becoming very technological," Strain said, "we're going to have to embrace all technologies."

That can include new types of plant breeding and even new plants that produce more while consuming less, as well as innovative ways to deal with emerging disease threats. Strain said agriculture has a tremendous duty to feed, clothe, house, and power the world for future generations.

The conference was sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the LSU AgCenter, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Conventional Center, and the National Farm-to-Table Alliance. Speakers discussed sustainable seafood practices, nutrition research, and farmer-restaurant relationships. The conference focused on the use of locally sourced foods and the challenges of worldwide hunger.

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