Opinion: Food Prices Remind Us Of The Importance Of Research

So much is being said these days about the cost of oil as it hovers around $100 per barrel, but if you’ve been following the news lately, you are aware of skyrocketing prices of basic foodstuffs. Well, you don’t have to follow the news to know that —  just go to the grocery store. The price of wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and oats are all escalating based on growing demand from developing nations and our commodity-based biofuel delusions. Just look at wheat prices, which have tripled since 2004 and recently hit $20 per bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. With carryover stocks of key commodities at 20-and 30-year lows, some people are even speaking of global food shortages. Meanwhile, corn hit $6 per bushel recently.

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Conversation Piece

As you can imagine, this trend has generated a lot of conversation in our company, which publishes many magazines on the production of food and fiber. I think our Editor-At-Large Dick Meister put a fine point on the matter during discussion on the topic. “No doubt that ag markets are in turmoil right now, and the short-term picture is very confusing and disturbing,” he said in an e-mail discussion regarding a dire National Public Radio (NPR) report on the matter. “But I am optimistic that in the long run we will be able to meet the world demand for food. 

I wish NPR had included some ag scientists on the program, like Norman Borlaug, and some of the companies who supply agriculture with technology. There is technology available now to vastly increase yields. For instance, the Cornell Greenhouse hydroponic lettuce project produces 16 crops per year and yields 15 times larger than in the field. One speaker on the NPR program called for increased investment in agriculture, saying investment in ag has been neglected. Absolutely this is true, and one can only look at the large decreases in the land-grant college system in this country in the past 20 years as proof.”

Emphasis On IFAS

Well said, Dick. Research and innovation will be critical in meeting the demand of future food needs, and the work of land-grant universities will be central. That is why we placed so much emphasis on the important role of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) in our April issue. We will continue to make an argument on behalf of IFAS as lawmakers consider important funding decisions.