Based on its plentiful natural resources, Nebraska farmers are in an enviable position to embrace the future of agriculture, according to an early pioneer in biotechnology. But Roger Beachy said that agriculture is vulnerable to volatile changes in weather patterns and to the public’s mistrust of science and corporations in this country.
Beachy was the first speaker at the Governor’s Ag Conference in Kearney this winter. A plant pathologist who was instrumental in developing genetically modified tomatoes, Beachy is semi-retired now and the president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
His speech during the conference addressed “Investing in Research to Secure the Future Success of Agriculture.”
The world’s discoveries, large and small, are the result of sound science, but scientists and the private sector must do a better job of informing consumers of the benefits of advances, such as genetically engineered plants. He stressed the need for more transparency upfront in explaining why genetically engineered crops are produced and their benefits to society. As an example, Beachy said that insect-resistant corn has reduced pesticide applications and led to higher corn production.
Beachy is heavily involved in seeking more public funding for agriculture research with a focus on genetic advances for crops and livestock. He is a board member of SOAR (Supports of Agricultural Research). The private sector provides the bulk of that funding today, but Beachy said the U.S. must enhance research at universities through a competitive grant approach. He acknowledged that states are limited in funding sources and the federal government is heavily in debt.
Without more public funding, the United States stands to fall behind other nations which are gaining the same technologies. He cited Indonesia, which has a goal of planting 6 million acres of corn. “It is much closer (in distance) to China than we are.”