Farmers face rising food demand, declining water
DENVER, Colorado ” A growing world population that’s eating more food will put more pressure on western plains farmers to boost yields while dealing with limited water supplies, experts said at a sustainability conference Thursday.
The world adds roughly 80 million people each year, and by 2023, it will need close to 400 million more metric tons of grain, said Rich Pottorff, chief economist for Doane Advisory Services. Per capita consumption also is rising.
Yet yields are not rising fast enough to meet world demand, particularly for corn, which also is in demand for biofuels, he said.
Simply adding acreage is not an easy option, given rising land prices and loss of land for conservation, to protect threatened species or development.
“We’re challenged to grow enough food with diminishing resources,” said Clay Scott, who raises wheat, cattle and corn in Ulysses, Kan.
More than 450 people are attending the three-day conference that ends Friday. Farmers, researchers and industry members are sharing ideas on sustainability issues in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.
All three states have dealt with drought in recent years, and Nebraska water users are facing pending restrictions. In December, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources issued a preliminary finding that the Platte River Basin upstream of the Missouri River had reached its limit for irrigation or other uses. If the determination is made final, it would require development of water management plans.
“Water is the key limiting factor for crop production for virtually every crop,” said Robert Reiter, vice president of breeding technology for Monsanto Co., a key sponsor of the conference.
Monsanto, based in St. Louis, said last month it has submitted a drought-tolerant corn product to federal regulators for approval. It hopes to have the seeds on the market by 2012.
In trials in the western great plains last year, fields with the drought-tolerant corn showed gains of about seven to 10 bushels on an average of 70-130 bushels per acre, the company said.
What makes the corn drought-tolerant is a gene that can boost the plant’s metabolism closer to normal when it is under stress. Monsanto hopes to eventually combine that with other traits to offer farmers a product that’s also more tolerant to herbicides and bugs, said David Fischoff, Mansanto vice president of technology strategy and development.
“The key is getting more production per acre with more efficient use of all the key inputs, whether it’s fertilizer, water. Because we’re not going to expand dramatically the acreage,” Reiter said.