The agriculture industry needs to do a better job of educating the public about the challenges of feeding a growing population and the necessity of using both traditional methods and new technology to achieve sustainable food production.

And the industry also needs to listen, says Brett Begemann, Monsanto President and COO.

Begemann sat down with Southwest Farm Press recently before addressing the Dallas Friday Group, an organization of business people with an interest in public affairs and business issues.

Begemann said society faces the daunting challenge of a population that will reach 9 billion souls, probably before 2050, with many likely to move into a growing middle class that will expect improved diets.

But the challenge is greater than just an expanding population. Begemann says water availability poses serious challenges to food production. “Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of water use,” he said. As the population increases, more people require more water, leaving less for food production. “We have to figure out a way to feed 9 billion people with less water,” he said. More drought tolerant and nutrient efficient crops will help.

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Adapting to climate change and conserving soil also pose challenges for the agriculture industry.

Technology will play a significant role in fulfilling the demand. “We have to become more efficient,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last few decades but we have to get more efficient using water and conserving topsoil. The good news is that most people in agriculture are willing to do that. The tools are there, but the challenge is great.”

One of those challenges is to inform the public about how their food is produced.

“More people today want more information about agriculture and where their food comes from,” Begemann said. “We all have to address the issue of sustainable agriculture. That’s a challenge for all of us.”