Strain: Tough choices ahead for food producers as population rises

State Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain was the guest speaker for the Third Annual Farmer and Rancher Appreciation Banquet held Thursday at the Cypress Bayou Casino Pavilion.

Strain spoke to guests about nutrient management and water use challenges facing Louisiana and southern agriculture. According to Strain, world population will reach 9.2 billion by 2050. Producers must double food production by 2050 and at the same time protect water quality.

Nitrogen and phosphorus from run-off needs to be reduced by 40 percent according to the EPA in order to reduce nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico that causes hypoxia, Strain said. There is an action plan in place to accomplish this, but by using all of the science and technology now available, producers will only be able to reduce it by 15 percent. Nitrogen and phosphorus are necessary to increase the food supply. There is a new type of nitrogen fertilizer being developed that is time-released that may be part of the solution.

Strain said Nutrient Management is the goal, through voluntary methods, to minimize the nutrient loss, have nutrient capture grants and loans available to producers as an incentive to profitability.

“If you lose water, you lose nitrogen, you lose phosphorus, what is that going down the ditch?” he asked. “That’s money. We want to capture that, we need to capture that. Everything we are losing is what we need to increase production. We have to figure out a way to do that through conservation technologies.”

Strain said his department is working together with many agencies and working with the National Resource Conservation Service and others to form partnerships, public and private, to find solutions. The Lower Mississippi Valley Nutrient Management Initiative has been created to bring in multiple states to start voluntary incentive based programs.

It is demanded of producers, Strain says, that they increase productivity, increase the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and water utilization by the plants and at the same time decrease the nutrient run-off while using 70 percent of the available fresh water and the population of America will grow by another 100 million people.

“As you look at where we’re at in agriculture, one thing is constant,” Strain said. “Tomorrow morning there will be another 40 million souls on this Earth, they and us will eat, we will drink, we will wear clothes, we will need many things coming from this Earth; and if we handle our resources properly and conserve, they will be there for future generations.”

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