The future could be a pretty rough trip; world population keeps growing, energy and other resources are limited, and some accommodation for the situation must be found, according to a recent research report prepared by Joseph J. Marks, science news director, University of Missouri; H. R. Fortmann, regional coordinator, Northeast Association of Agricultural Experiment Station directors; J.B. Kendrick, director, University of California Agricultural Experiment Station, and S.H. Wittwer, director, Michigan State University Agricultural Experiment Station.
We could keep going the way we are, the report said. That means we find some miracle that gives us boundless new resources; or we can just continue using up our resources in one final orgy of 20th-century materialism. Or we can take another route. We can change lifestyles, at least long enough to buy time for agricultural scientists to learn how to squeeze more out of every acre.
"As agricultural experts, we are optimistic about food production. We think we can feed the world of tomorrow by reshaping plants to make better use of photosynthesis, by harvesting the oceans, by building super plants and animals, by inventing food in ways that haven't even been thought of yet.
"That may not be enough. There is increasing evidence we must have population control. The United Nations has predicted there will be 12.3 billion human beings on this planet before the numbers level off in the next century."
Population control, a broader research base, environmental management and teamwork, are the requirements for the future, the report said.
"We have only so much talent, skill and money. How do we use them most effectively? We asked this question of the Agricultural Experiment Station directors and land grant universities across the country.
"Here are some of their priorities:
"Monitor the environment. That means knowing our environment from the inside of molecules to outer space.
"Watch weather and climate. Scientists estimate that 60 to 80 percent of the variability in crop production, whether boom or bust, can be explained by weather variability.
Advanced weather forecasting and weather modification, plus computerized farm management, will help farmers (and gardeners) take full advantage of rainfall, sunshine and temperature changes.
"Build gene banks. The idea is to avoid genetic vulnerability.
"Use the sun. Scientists recognize the sun as an endless energy source that can be used directly (solar heat) or indirectly (photosynthesis).
Maximize protein energy. We need a bigger research effort on the two most important energy-producing biochemical processes on earth: photosynthesis and biological nitrogen fixation.
"Farm the waters. Since two-thirds of this planet is covered by water, it seems logical to investigate water fully as a food source.
"Water, whether ocean or pond, could be a great protein producer, whether you're growing algae, lobsters, oysters, shrimp, catfish, or whatever.
"We think our team of agricultural scientists and farmers (and gardeners) have done quite well so far. Our people are not only fed, but fed well with the world's most plentiful supply of nutritious, healthful food for the smallest part of their income anywhere in the world.
"But that's in the past. The tougher job lies ahead."