Scott: Celebrate the industry that’s growing for the future

Guest ColumnistOctober 10, 2013 

— This week is the opening of the South Carolina State Fair, where agriculture’s finest crops and livestock are presented. Members of 4-H and Future Farmers of America bring the animals they have raised and projects they have worked on to compete for prizes, as they have done for decades.

This annual celebration of S.C. agriculture is an appropriate time to reflect on important issues in agriculture and how S.C. growers and producers can meet the demands to feed an ever-increasing population in our state, our nation and our world.

The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report released in June.

Will there be enough food? As dean of the Clemson University College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, this question occupies my mind.

I am confident that in South Carolina we will continue to have the technology, the scientific advancements, the capability and the will to meet the needs and challenges of the future.

Agribusiness, which includes agriculture and forestry, is a $34 billion industry, the largest in South Carolina.

For the past 50 years, the state’s agribusiness industry has brought about increased productivity of our forest and agricultural land, better stewardship of our natural resources and new plant varieties. Agriculture isn’t just about planting and harvesting any more. It is also about improving plant stocks to make them insect and disease resistant, drought tolerant and capable of producing higher yields.

In addition, our food systems must become more efficient by reducing waste. In the United States, an estimated 26 percent of all food is thrown away each year. The water and natural resources that are used to produce this food also are wasted.

To keep up with demand, future farmers and foresters will have to employ business, economic and marketing skills to manage increased productivity and increased economic development.

More food and fiber will be grown on marginal land because of scientific discoveries in biotechnology that will increase the growing season for some crops and reduce pressure from insects, disease and drought on more crop varieties.

For example, Hong Luo, in Clemson’s department of genetics and biochemistry, is conducting research to help plants genetically adapt to deal with drought and salt levels in soils. Dr. Luo’s research focuses on perennial grasses, which include turfgrass, forages and biofuel plants. His research with turfgrass will positively impact the state’s $1.7 billion golf industry, which provides 35,000 jobs. Dr. Luo is this year’s recipient of Clemson’s highest agricultural research honor, the Godley-Snell Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research.

Providing for a future that includes increased productivity of agricultural and forest resources, while ensuring a sustainable environment, isn’t a job for farmers and foresters alone. Success will depend on the collaborative efforts of many — educational institutions, industry, small-, medium- and large-scale businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, consumers and others. Together, we will secure the future for our children, for their children and for many generations to come.

Dr. Scott is dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; contact him at caflsdean-l@clemson.edu.

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