Mitch Daniels’ Presidential Lecture Series at Purdue University Monday night went all ag as the Secretary of USDA took the stage as part of his 2 day visit to the West Lafayette campus. Tom Vilsack spoke, then took questions from both Daniels and the audience of students, faculty, state USDA officials, farmers and many Indiana agriculture industry leaders.
Daniels got right to the pressing issue of the day, how to feed the rapidly growing world population.
“Nine billion is a lot of people,” Daniels said. “You say more innovation will be needed in the next few decades maybe than in human history. Where on the globe should we look for either new land or new productivity to help address this problem,” he asked Vilsack.
“First and foremost we obviously have to continue to be productive here at home, and I don’t think we’ve actually maximized our productivity,” the USDA head responded. “But if you combine greater productivity on what we know is productive land, with making significant advances in places like Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, there’s no question we have the capacity to produce enough food.”
Vilsack said eliminating large scale food waste will also help meet the extraordinary challenge ahead. But if we don’t meet the challenge, “As difficult and dangerous as the world is today, if you’ve got billions of people who are simply hungry with no hope, it’s going to be a far more dangerous world. So agriculture I think is going to help make us a safer place.”
Daniels followed up by asking if Vilsack was optimistic about future innovation to improve water sustainability in agriculture.
“We’re learning a lot right now in California. We’re learning a lot about more proper irrigation systems, more efficient irrigation systems. We’re learning a lot about crops that are drought resistant and don’t need as much water to grow. We need to have bright young people at Purdue be interested in careers that will allow us to figure out how to use less water, how to use it more efficiently, how to re-use water, how to create irrigation systems that are very precise.”
Tuesday activities for the ag secretary included a visit to the mass spectrometry facility to learn how it relates to biofuels, a stop at the Birck Nanotechnology Center, a briefing on Purdue Extension and Rural Economic Development.