Agriculture has a powerful message for recruiting young people to the profession and should use it wisely, Fred Davies of Texas A&M told reporters in Washington for the annual spring meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists.
"The challenge to produce food for 9 billion people in the world is the Sputnik challenge of our time," he said. "The opportunities for young people are exciting and we need to be getting the message out there."
Davies presentation "Horticulture, Food Safety and the Challenge of Feeding the World," was geared to presenting some hard facts, among them the reality that the world is headed toward a food security issue within the next decade.
"Most people are not aware that we are heading toward actual food shortages. There are real opportunities for people who want to grow fruits, vegetables, flowering plants and high value niche crops," he said.
He pointed out that Indonesia imports half of its food, a fact that puts it in a real bind in terms of economic and food security.
Davies talked about stunting, a developmental disorder that occurs within the first 1,000 days of human life from the date of consumption, when nutrition is inadequate. Stunting predisposes humans to obesity in later life by programming the body to store fat to prevent starvation.
Davies also talked about plant breeders, grocers, consumers, chemists and health care workers all being involved in the effort to create the best diet and the best lifestyle choices to help people make decisions that promote health.
He said that horticulture today produces specialty crops in the U.S. that equal 50% of all farm gate values. While corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans area all subsidized crops, he said, horticulture receives no subsidies.
In recent years, the "buy local" movement has pushed more supermarkets toward local suppliers, which in turn builds opportunity for owners of small farms, minorities and women to prosper in horticulture entrepreneurship.
Still, he said, there are significant challenges to the success of those enterprises, including globalization, marketing roadblocks, labor shortages, environmental issues, and urban encroachment.
As the world struggles to provide food for 9 billion people, it also faces limitations on food production brought about by a shortage of available land, water and energy to produce crops. At the same time that the need for food production grows, the U.S. has steadily de-funded the 100-year-old extension education system that helps people learn how to effectively grow food and sustain agricultural systems.
Davies said the U.S. also needs to address the issue of food loss. A huge amount of food is lost either between harvest and arrival at supermarkets or thrown away from waste and spoilage within the food delivery system.
"The bottom line is we have invested too little for too long in our food production system," he said. "From Extension to support for young farmers to water shortages and nutrient needs, we have just neglected the system," he said.