The world is headed for a food crisis as societies struggle to figure out how to feed the 2.7 billion more people who will be on earth in 2050 than there are today.

The catch-22 of that challenge? Arable land needed to meet that daunting challenge is disappearing as the population grows. Agriculture must produce much more with far less resources to feed the world in 40 years.

The scenario is being muddled in the current era of agricultural sustainability, a term that defies a universal definition. For sure, most definitions transcend what goes on in the fields, involving such issues as whether labor contractors are properly feeding and housing farm workers in New Mexico.

That is the question giant big box retailer Costco put to Steve Balling, director of agriculture and analytical services for Del Monte Foods, Walnut Creek, Calif., the week before he spoke on “Measuring and Reducing Your Pest Management Footprint” at the 39th annual California Association of Pest Control Advisers (CAPCA) conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Balling used it as a drastic sustainability measurement.

Balling holds a doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Berkley. For 22 years, he has worked with Del Monte Foods in developing an award winning integrated pest management program. He oversees pesticide use on 17 fruit and vegetable crops grown on 100,000 acres annually by 1,500 contract growers. These crops go into 19 Del Monte human and pet food brands which make up the company’s $3.7 billion in annual sales.

Pesticide use is just part of the sustainability mantra he faces daily from buyers like Wal-Mart, Costco, Sysco and others that, he says, are bombarding food suppliers with repeated questions. The barrage of questions pertains not just to how food is produced, but regards social issues as well.

In baseball, there is one standard score sheet, but in the sustainability world there are as many definitions as there were baseballs used in the recent World Series. It seemed that seldom was a baseball thrown more than twice before it was tossed aside in the series the San Francisco Giants won.

Several years ago an executive with a major California agricultural trade group identified 27 definitions at that time.

Balling has his favorites: “Sustainability meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.”

Then there are the sustainable 3Ps — profit, planet and people.

Balling’s grandfather put it in far simpler and understandable terms: “Don’t eat the seed corn.”