Ross, who was appointed CDFA secretary in January 2011 and has a long history representing agricultural organizations, stressed the importance of telling agriculture's story. "People do not know what agriculture is really about—and all the stuff that makes it work," she says. "And they don't have a true appreciation of what our productivity gains in agriculture have done for everyone else in this country and around the world."
In the 1950s one farmer produced enough food to feed less than 20 people, while today one farmer is responsible for food production to feed 155 people. She said those kinds of productivity gains came from land-grant institutions like UC Davis, the extension of information through Cooperative Extension, and the adaptability and resourcefulness of farmers and ranchers to make it work for their own biological system. The result is a low per capita cost of food of less than 12% of disposable income.
"It's really important that we're good communicators to help people understand how agriculture is relevant to their daily life," she adds...
Ross also acknowledged that increasingly people are asking hard questions about the food system. In response to a student question about genetically modified organisms she said that area stands out as an area in need of good communication and more scientists involved in educating the public.
"What people are yearning for is transparency in the food system because they feel disconnected from it," she says. "We need a continuum of business practices and farming systems and choices for consumers, which creates choices for farmers and market channels they want. It's critically important for us to not just try to drive us to one way or another but allow for that diversity which will give us resiliency in our food system."
Stumbos writes for UC Davis