U.S. agriculture is facing a barrage of challenges ranging from tough domestic and international issues to evolving consumer attitudes about food production which likely will alter the future of farming.

This scenario was painted by Daniel Vradenberg, agribusiness division president with Wilbur-Ellis, Walnut Creek, Calif. Vradenberg spoke during the 36th annual California Association of Pest Control Advisers (PCAs) Conference and Agri-Expo in Anaheim, Calif.

“Agriculture must work together on big issues regardless if we are competitors, independents, small or large retailers, or provide crop input supplies,” Vradenberg said.

Vradenberg shared his Top 12 list of the challenges facing U.S. agriculture including: world food shortages, emerging economies in China and India, unstable financial markets, volatile commodity prices, food safety issues, the impact of currency on trade, the 2012 farm bill, carbon footprints, energy independence, immigration policy, government protectionism and trade, plus extreme weather patterns.

Specifically in California pest management, Vradenberg believes the major issues involve increasing regulations on land, water and air. PCAs also face negative public perception for good pest management techniques, including aerial treatment for the light brown apple moth.

When a food safety issue surfaces, the public often points the finger first at pesticides.

“The general public usually thinks it’s caused by chemical residues,” Vradenberg said. “Most of the time it’s a microbial contamination issue.”

Other dynamics in California pest management include: increased accountability for crop production practices and greater consequences for mistakes; grower customers who demand better service and more value; and an economy which drives businesses to achieve purchasing efficiencies.

On top of that, public opinion is shifting on the pest management industry and agriculture; in some cases against modern agricultural technology, according to the results of a consumer perception of food technology survey conducted by the International Food Information Council.

“Survey results indicate the general public wants food grown on less land, the use of fewer pesticides, a smaller carbon footprint, and reduced water to grow the crop,” Vradenberg said.

“It’s estimated we will need to feed an additional 2 billion people (globally) in the next 30 to 40 years on 20 percent less land due to climate degradation and urbanization,” Vradenberg said. “I think we can meet that challenge but we must have reasonable agricultural policy.”

Research by the Edelman public relations firm in 2010 of 800 people cites two differing views of U.S. food production and pest management. One side supports the organic movement which opposes fertilizer and crop protection chemical use and biotechnology, Vradenberg says, and favors locally-produced food without large-scale monoculture.

The other side argues the organic movement cannot feed the world and modern agricultural practices are necessary to meet the growing demand for food.