Terry N. Barr, senior director, Knowledge Exchange Division of CoBank.

Barr said “a lot is riding on China,” where a new leader is stepping forward and growth is expected to slow. “The double digit growth rate is over,” he said.

Worldwide, he expects a lack of confidence in the United States will keep growth at 2 percent. Globally, he predicts 3 percent in 2013. In the U.S., Barr said, “investment is on hold” due to a number of uncertainties around topics that include the energy sector, immigration, health care, regulatory oversight and deficit reduction.

Barr said a drought has helped spike grain prices and there has been a steady trend upward in prices for fruits, nuts and vegetables, and all crops have moved up by 63 percent in the past five years. But he cautioned that not all of agriculture is benefiting. Dairy and beef producers, for example, have struggled with high feed costs and export challenges.

Barr expects major changes in North America’s search for energy with development of new technologies and use of shale oil and gas. He predicts oil will be in the $90 to $100 range per barrel.

Corny Gallagher, senior vice president and food, ag and wine executive with Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Global Commercial Banking.

Gallagher said agriculture is challenged by aging on many fronts, including farmers themselves, workers, researchers and teaching staff. On the positive side, he said, demand for farm commodities has been growing because of populations and per capita income growth.

He said water use continues “to define California agriculture.” And he called for an emphasis on “water retention” rather than water storage.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy, with the United Fresh Produce Association.

Guenther talked of the impact of the presidential election as a tale of “the good, the bad and the ugly.” He said it’s good that “we know what happened.”

“The bad is that nothing has changed,” he said. And the ugly is an expectation that there will be a stepped up “regulatory environment.”

As to a 2012 farm bill reauthorization, he said that would likely require leadership action by a lame duck House of Representatives. It could take the form of a year’s extension, he said. There have been a total of six farm bill extensions.

Greg Calistro, executive director of produce and floral with Save Mart Supermarkets.

Calistro said the 60-year-old supermarket chain headquartered in Modesto is seeing significant changes that include tougher competition that includes on-line shopping and big box stores like Target and Costco.

Consumers want more in the way of convenience, he said. Among categories that are growing is pre-cut fruit and vegetable sales. He said an interest in healthy snacks is spawning vending machines with fresh fruit.

Other trends include interest in organics, shopping locally and using social media. Calistro said 68 percent of moms use smartphones and 64 percent scan QR (quick response) codes.

Younger shoppers — as young as 3 to 17 — “are the most sophisticated ever,” Calistro said. They are comfortable navigating the “social media landscape” and that helps drive awareness of recipes and specialty foods.

Buyers of herbs, he said, are likely to spend a minimum of $50 in the store, making purchases that also include lamb or other products.