Technological advances will continue to drive crop advances as global agriculture prepares to feed and clothe another 2-3 billion people by 2050 but on less land worldwide linked to water scarcity.

“Technology will help us feed the world – jumping from 7 billion to 10 billion people on 80 percent of the land farmed today,” said Mike McCarty, president and chief executive officer of Helena Chemical Company (HCC), Collierville, Tenn.

McCarty believes this will be the biggest challenge and opportunity which agriculture worldwide has ever faced.

McCarty shared his vision as the keynote speaker during the 2012 Southwest Agricultural Summit held in Yuma, Ariz. About 1,100 people attended the sixth annual event.

The HCC chief executive joined the company in 1980 as a salesman. The nearly $4 billion company distributes crop production inputs plus protection products and services for agriculture and other industries.

Looking first at the major crops grown in the U.S. including grains, McCarty said, “Agriculture will have to be more efficient than ever. Technology will drive the future of our business.”

McCarty’s crystal ball envisions that two primary businesses — agriculture and energy — will excel globally more than others. He predicts many opportunities for production agriculture and agri-business.

“I see a very, very promising future,” McCarty said.

McCarty’s optimism is partly based on mushrooming world population projections. The fastest growing areas include China, India, and Africa. Today, China has a 1.3 billion population; a fourfold increase over the U.S.

More people will mean more vehicles which will further fuel the demand for ethanol. About 35 percent of the U.S. grain crop today is converted to ethanol fuel.

“Ethanol continues as a sizable market of the grain crop.”

Another reason for McCarty’s positive agricultural forecast is the desire worldwide for a healthier diet including more fruits and vegetables.

In China, more residents are climbing the economic ladder into the middle class. This means more available income and the ability to consume more protein from meat, tree nuts, and other sources.

A healthier food supply, McCarthy points out, can reduce physical ailments including Type 2 diabetes which is tied to obesity.

“We need a change in nutrition,” McCarty said. “Agriculture can help lead this. This will be a tremendous opportunity for vegetable growers in the U.S.”

This message hit home for the large number of vegetable industry members attending the summit. Yuma County area and neighboring Imperial County, Calif., produce about 95 percent of the nation’s winter vegetable supply for salads.