Crop consultants should play a key role in forging agriculture’s future as the industry faces serious challenges from changing government and public perception, emerging production problems (including weed and insect pest resistance), adopting new technology and a world demand for food that could double or triple today’s needs in less than 50 years.

Consultants also face challenges and opportunities to help farmers reduce energy use, increase water use efficiency and improve environmental stewardship for their clients.

“Your challenge is to get active and feel good about the future need for the crop consultant profession,” J.R. Bradley, professor emeritus, North Carolina State University, told cotton crop consultants from across the U.S. Cotton Belt during the annual Cotton Consultants Conference. The annual meeting kicks off the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, held this year in New Orleans.

Bradley discussed a wide range of topics that will affect cotton production and farmers across the globe. He said crop consultants are perfectly positioned to influence decisions that affect farmers’ bottom lines.

He said crop consultants could design reduced carbon emissions systems. “You can help farmers become more efficient and less wasteful of energy,” Bradley said. He faulted efforts to develop a cap and trade policy as short-sighted and “a killer system that will hamstring the country. The United States will pay to bring the rest of the world around,” he said. “I’m not interested in bringing the rest of the world around. I’m interested in (U.S.) farmers.”

Crop consultants have a role to play in dealing with global warming as farmers deal with arable land that’s turning to desert and fewer water resources and are in position to help farmers gear up to meet the national goal of 30 billion gallons of ethanol per year by 2012.

He said water resource issues will vex agriculture as cities like Atlanta demand water that was once used for agriculture. “We’re seeing a reallocation of water occurring,” Bradley said. “It’s already a fact in the West. Allocations determined 50 years ago are out of date and are being re-evaluated. In the Southeast, cities will demand more water.”

He said crop consultants “can be of service as ground water levels drop. We need to do more with rain-fed lands and consultants need to help farmers be more productive.” He said more efficient irrigation and water management systems will be needed.

Pesticide stewardship, he said, relies on crop consultant intervention to prevent product misuse. He says better stewardship may never convince people who are opposed to all toxic pesticides to change their minds but it removes sources of contention.

“Sometimes we are wrong,” he said. “Misuse of pesticides occurs if we make aerial applications when wind speeds are too high and we have drift problems. An increasing percentage of the public is getting tired of it.”

Consultants, he said, should be vigilant about keeping planes grounded when conditions are not conducive for application. “We also have to guard against using pesticides off label.”

Bradley told the group that the Obama Administration is not a friend of the farmer or of the agriculture industry and that he expects increased regulation on new product development. “It will cost more and take more time” for companies to develop new crop protection products. “Re-evaluation of older pesticides will also be more difficult.” He cited Temik as being “constantly dogged by EPA and not always justifiably, but only because it’s a toxic compound. They do not think of the ramifications” of removing products such as Temik or atrazine, he said.

Bradley also expressed concern that agriculture and food production is now controlled by fewer companies, so we have less freedom of choice, less competition. “Seed is now the most valuable agricultural input, more valuable than any pesticide and that leads to a front load for farmers.” He said seed treatments, also popular products for farmers, are “controlled by the major players.”

He said in the future farmers will pay for the traits they need. “But who decides what traits they need? Will it be on a regional, a state, a county or a field basis? Whatever the formula, it probably will not be small enough to be fair to the farmer.”

Bradley said consultants should be instrumental in determining the trait allocation but probably will not be used enough although they are “in the best position to recommend needs.

“Consultants face management test,” Bradley said, as farmers face new challenges with resistant weeds and other pests. “Evolution is a biological phenomenon that does not stop for traits. That’s why farmers need crop consultants.”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com