It’s an exciting time to be involved in agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers face significant opportunities, but equally daunting challenges, as they seek ways to double food production by 2050. Success depends on improving productivity and enhancing international trade, according to a respected agricultural economist who sees a bright future for U.S. agriculture.

“I am more optimistic about agriculture that at any time in my career,” says Dick Crowder, professor, international trade, at Virginia Tech University. “Agriculture has a huge opportunity and responsibility.” Crowder was keynote speaker at the Rural Economic Outlook Conference at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

Crowder, who also worked extensively in the private ag industry sector and served as chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said maintaining the status quo will fail to double agricultural production.

The limitations are real and substantial. If agriculture must double food production with perhaps 10 percent more land but less water, less labor and the same policies and technology available today, the effort will fail.

Success, he said, depends on increasing per acre yields with less waste and increased efficiency. That will require new technology, wide adoption of new policies, improved infrastructure and better management.

“Intellectual property rights must be protected,” he said. “Also, in some countries, management is a limiting resource.”

Some areas, he added, especially developing nations, face serious infrastructure inadequacies, including too little storage and transportation problems.

“Can we double food production by 2050?” Crowder asked. “Yes, but we have to change. We have to thrive on change and risk.”

Technology is essential

He said with adoption of new technology, better management, and improved efficiency, “yields will go up.”

Change will include more than individual producers, however. Crowder said agriculture will require greater investments in research and development from public, private and joint efforts. Improved infrastructure and human capital also will play important roles in enhanced productivity.

Those issues must become priorities at land grant universities. “We can’t become complacent.”

Adoption of new technology, especially genetically modified products, should become more synchronized so that all trading nations accept new offerings at the same time to limit delays in incorporating them into production.

On-farm changes will include higher but more volatile commodity prices. “We expect higher farm income but with greater risk.” He said farmers must “market, don’t sell. Get closer to customers.”

Producers must become active in policy leadership.