In an example of technology breakthroughs underway in agriculture, McCarty discussed a recent tour he took of a Syngenta operation where the company’s future lines of vegetable seeds were highlighted. The new products signaled how Syngenta is improving the taste and smell of vegetables.

“I took a bite of a traditional pepper; it looked and tasted like a normal pepper,” McCarty said. “The other pepper tasted almost like a snack. It was like eating candy; almost addictive. This technology will be available in the future. That’s a plus,” McCarty said.

The Helena leader also addressed crop yields which have more than doubled over the last 30-40 years. McCarty warned that crop yield advances will slow slightly in the near future in developed countries, but will increase faster in less-developed countries.

“This is where new technology and innovation will really come into play.”

A 20 percent reduction in farmed acreage worldwide is tied to water scarcity across the globe.

“Water will be a limiting factor (globally),” McCarty said. “Over the last century in the world, global water use has increased at twice of the rate of the population.”

In the U.S., Texas’ record drought last year parched soil, left crops to sizzle and die in fields, and forced ranchers to cull cow herds at an all-time high.

California’s lack of rain and snowfall this past winter has producers again on edge. Arizona’s prolonged drought, stretching more than a dozen consecutive years, is forcing producers to fallow fertile land in the state’s central section; land traditionally planted in cotton and other crop staples.

About 200 high school and college students and teachers attended the summit. McCarty painted a positive forecast for jobs in the agricultural field including food production, equipment, seed, fertilizer, agrichemical, and other sectors.

McCarty says U.S. agriculture is fiscally strong with U.S. gross farm income topping $400 billion last year; an all-time record high. Production expenses were in the $320 billion range with net farm income nearing $100 million. Farm input expenses penciled out near $56 billion.

McCarty says the global economy impacts U.S. agriculture more than the U.S. economy alone.

“I’m concerned about the global economy and what is going on in Europe right now,” McCarty said. “If there is a recession-proof industry then agriculture comes pretty close when compared to other industries.”

Agriculture’s future hinges on those willing to take risks and initiate change, McCarty says. Risk takers have made U.S. agriculture stronger.

“Our competition (in agriculture) is now global. We need to be aware of what our competition is doing so we can take the steps to move forward.”

Continued change was also echoed during the summit by Shane Burgess, dean of the University of Arizona’s (UA) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Burgess took the reins as the CALS dean last August.

He says never has the world faced feeding 7 billion to 10 billion people and been so concerned about food safety, the food chain, and the food system security.

Change is inherent for Arizona and the UA as they move forward from the recession with reduced budgets and revised plans.

Burgess said, “One of the things that it means to be a land grant university and a college of agriculture is we need to listen to those who are making the world turn. What do we need to do now, tomorrow, and over the next 10 years?”

“We need to be consistent, pragmatic, and continually improving and being on the cutting edge of innovation.” 

cblake@farmpress.com