The states east of the Mississippi River, and particularly those in the Southeast, could play an increasingly important role in food production in years ahead, says J. Scott Angle.

Climate change, geopolitical issues, and environmental considerations “suggest the eastern half of the U.S. will need to produce greater amounts of food than it does today,” the dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told a recent hearing of the House General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee.

“It is crystal clear that rising population and enhanced nutritional demands … will require food production to double by 2050,” he said. Since land available for production may decline due to reforestation, “the amount of food produced per acre will have to double by 2050.”

Politics may limit European Union countries from adopting new and emerging crop technologies, Angle said, while in the U.S. climate changes could further limit water available for crops in the western states.

“The Southeast has a longer growing season, abundant sunlight, good soils, and reasonable amounts of rainfall and groundwater for irrigation. Thus, it is clear that agriculture in the southeastern U.S. must continue to grow if world food demand is to be met.”

Despite Malthusian predictions of mass starvation as a result of food production being unable to keep up with burgeoning world population, Angle said just the opposite has occurred and that food problems today are due in large part to “an inability to move food to where it is needed and local political instability.

“There is every reason to believe that rising yields and improved nutrition in agriculture will continue for many years to come (and) I can promise you, the U.S. system of agricultural research and education will continue to produce the incredible discoveries that have driven the success of American agriculture.”

Angle said “an inherent and lingering appreciation for the rural lifestyle, the values held by our rural citizenry, and the cultural heritage that exists only in these areas … are vital components of our culture no one wants to lose.”

We can’t always count on other countries to produce for us, he said. “Previous food safety incidents have shown how a single accident can close imports of an entire commodity.

“No one wants to have our food production shipped overseas. We’ve seen clearly with imported energy how easily we can be at the mercy of others who may not always like us. As bad as it is to be dependent on imported fuel, it would be disastrous if we depended on other nations for our food.

“Remember — we have only an 11-day supply in our food chain; if that chain is broken, critical problems arise almost immediately. We never want to be in a position where food can be used as a political weapon against us.

“This is a message some, who have absolutely no connection to agriculture, seem to have forgotten. Unlike other industries that can be brought back online after a prolonged period of inactivity … it may be impossible to bring back agriculture once it is lost.”

There is, Angle said, “a crucial need for agriculture to continue to grow, and there are unique opportunities in the Southeastern U.S. to meet this demand.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com