Dr. Alex McCalla, UC Davis professor emeritus of Agricultural and Resource Economics, noted the challenges in feeding a global population of 7 billion that will hit 9 billion people by 2050. He said as the world’s developing nations become more prosperous, their appetites will be able to afford more animal meat, therefore their consumption of things such as corn, wheat and soybeans will decrease. However, it becomes more and more of a conundrum to increase crop yields decade after decade. “We are going to have to increase food production by 70 percent by 2050 to feed an additional 2 billion people,” he said. While population growth in countries such as China and India is exploding, most of the world’s ag land is already in play. “We have more land that can be used as agriculture in Brazil, places in Russia and Ukraine and savannah Africa, but not many more.” Stack on top of this climate change and an overall global lack of water to grow crops and unstable global markets and the situation becomes urgent.
“Can we double yields again?” he asked, on the same amount of land area like we have in the past with science, crop protection tools, synthetic fertilizers and bio crops. “The challenges for the world and California are enormous — although California is situated better than most. There’s great challenges ahead; let’s hope it can be done.”

To add to the overall angst, Army Col. Cheryl Smart, assistant professor of National Security Studies at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, approached ag topics from a security angle. She said Pentagon officials are constantly aware of the terrorist possibilities in attacking U.S. food supplies in an increasingly unstable world, stating that such an attack “would be devastating.” She said there are some Middle Eastern countries that have exhausted their water tables, other poorer countries that have run out of funds to finance food subsidies and they are having a hard time to survive. She added that many of these countries have given their citizens small plots of land — “micro-farming” — to grow their own food in order to survive.

 “Our answer in this country is that we have to concentrate on feeding ourselves,” the colonel said. “We have to look at our food supply and keep it safe, and, more importantly, make sure that it stays here in this country.”

I left the summit realizing the wisdom in hiring funnyman Gallagher to cheer up the crowd at lunch. There’s little doubt that was money well spent.