With 9 billion people expected on Earth within 40 years and the resulting pressure on food supplies and natural resources, agricultural researchers and educators will play a vital role in finding solutions, according to a top U.S. Department of Agriculture official.

“Food and agriculture are universal – everyone has a stake,” said Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA chief scientist and undersecretary for research, education and economics. “We’re going to need to work together.”

Woteki was the keynote speaker at the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Centennial Lecture Series this week. She addressed faculty, researchers, Texas AgriLife Extension Service officials and industry representatives at the AgriLife Center in College Station.

Because the college is celebrating 100 years and the USDA is 150 years old, Woteki said, there are numerous individual scientists to remember for their contributions which led to “enormous changes in the world.”

She said Dr. Ruth Benerito devised “wash and wear” cotton to keep the natural fiber on the market after synthetics emerged post-World War II; Drs. Edward Knipling and Raymond Bushland teamed up to create sterilization methods to eliminate screwworms; and Dr. Norman Borlaug developed high-yielding wheats credited with feeding millions of hungry people throughout the world.

But challenges continue globally, she noted, and agricultural researchers who can devise solutions along with agricultural Extension personnel who can help educate producers about such new technologies will be vital.

“We are working to sustainably intensify agricultural production to feed a growing planet,” Woteki said. “With global population expected to pass 9 billion by mid-century, we are working to double global agricultural output to meet our food, fuel and fiber needs. And we’re doing this in the face of enormous challenges such as land degradation, zoonotic disease outbreaks, water scarcity and climate change.”

“The legacies of the pioneers who revolutionized agriculture and made the world a better place gives me hope. Adaptation and innovation are the names of the game in agriculture,” she added. “And as we’ve done it before, I know we can do it again.”

Woteki said that a “globalized world with globalized challenges can only benefit from coordination, cooperation and collaboration.” She pointed to the G-8 and G-20 meetings among leading nations that will be held in May and June with “global food issues discussed at the highest levels of government.”

“Ensuring food security is on everyone’s mind, as is making sure our intensified ag production will be sustainable and preserve our natural resources for generations to come,” Woteki said.

Citing a report by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Woteki said, “if we’re going to ‘feed the future’ and do so without damaging the environment, we need to think big, think collaboratively, be strategic and most of all, we need to be smart.”