3) Ethanol subsidies. Even though ethanol’s share of U.S. gasoline consumption is projected to be only 15 percent by 2030, the diversion of corn for ethanol has caused an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent rise in food prices, much of it passed along by producers of meat, poultry and dairy as their operational costs go up. Encouraging alternatives to crop-based biofuels would mitigate both of those problems.
4) Increased crop diversity. On U.S. farms, almost 90 percent of historic fruit and vegetable varieties have vanished, as has cultivation of “secondary crops” often better suited to drought resistance, such as sorghum and barley. The switch has occurred for obvious economic reasons, but it’s a troubling trend.
5) Agricultural R&D. That last statistic leads directly to the issue of research. The share of agricultural R&D done by the public sectorhas dropped from more than half 30 years ago to only about 28 percent today. While proprietary research is important, basic improvements in crop and animal genetics are essential to maintain agricultural productivity and to increase production of non-commodity crops that can deliver harvests profitable enough to encourage their cultivation.
In the end, only a return to cooler temperatures and improved precipitation can effectively end the cycle of falling production, rising prices and the economic fallout that can and will result from the drought.
But longer term, it’s imperative, even in this current climate of severe budget cutting, to recognize that investing in food production is critical: It’s the bedrock of national security. Without a well-diversified, highly efficient and sufficiently profitable agricultural sector, this nation would be in such serious trouble, it would make our current concerns over rising prices seem like a picnic in the park.
That’s not a policy statement, nor a political position.
It’s hot, searing, sun-baked reality.
Review the complete list of Worldwatch’s proposed ag innovations.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.