Virginia farms need innovative technology

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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By Pam Wiley
Virginia Farm Bureau

It’s possible to combine climate-smart agriculture with increased food production and innovative technology.

That’s according to Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, who spoke at the Virginia Agricultural Trade Conference on Nov. 1.

Co-hosted this year by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, The Port of Virginia and the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Sciences, the event has been held annually since 2008.

During his presentation on “Trade and Domestic Policy Priorities,” McKinney told the nearly 200 conference attendees that farmers need to combine climate-smart practices with technology that will enable them to increase productivity.

“We can do this, but voluntary climate-smart programs are essential,” he remarked.

Studies have shown that farmers need to double their production in order to feed a projected 10 billion people in 2050. However, McKinney and other speakers said farmers around the world are losing productivity growth because innovative technologies are being rejected.

Virginia Tech’s Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative, which leverages partnerships, innovation, policy and analysis to ensure farmers have access to productivity tools, found that global agricultural productivity is in steep decline. The report also said current efforts to accelerate productivity growth fall short of the need. “We’re not getting the job done,” McKinney said.

He added that the European Union’s Precautionary Principle “is dangerous.” That principle states that if a given policy or action might cause harm to the public or the environment, and if there is no scientific agreement on the issue, then the policy or action should not be carried out.

Greg Doud, COO of the National Milk Producers Federation, agreed. In his talk, “Current Risks to U.S. and Global Markets,” he said that Europeans are “going backward” in terms of global trade.

“We need to leave geopolitics out of this and focus on food production,” Doud noted.

McKinney added that trade threats related to technology adoption—like Mexico refusing to buy yellow corn from the U.S. because it’s genetically modified—are “troubling.”

He then gave a synopsis of NASDA’s position on trade with various countries. “I’m an advocate for sustaining trade with China,” McKinney remarked. He also said there are many opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the U.S. previously was hesitant to trade with Africa, there is more interest now.

Paul Spencer, a global trade policy advocacy leader for Corteva Agriscience, said his company is working to boost African farmers’ productivity.

He said a 10-year program in Tanzania that provides 100,000 farmers with hybrid corn seed and herbicides doubled their income and increased production by 300%.

To improve global productivity, Spencer said “we need science-based, internationally compatible regulatory approaches.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin also spoke at the trade conference and said Virginia is constantly working to expand its global trade, as evidenced by the record $5.1 billion in agricultural and forestry exports it generated in 2022. The 2022 export total eclipses the previous record $4 billion set in 2021 by 25%.

Virginia’s top agricultural and forestry exports in 2022 were soybeans at over $2.3 billion, animal products at more than $960 million, tobacco at $215 million, wood products at more than $509 million, and beer at $145 million.

“We have to set an aggressive bar for this next year,” Youngkin said.