In Perspective: Gratitude for food science

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Colleen Scherer In November, millions of people will mark the annual tradition of Thanksgiving, which is undoubtedly one of the biggest food holidays celebrated in the United States. Although the holiday centers around food, it is also a time to be mindful and grateful for the foods harvested after a long growing season.

This past growing season was a challenging one for many farmers, crop consultants and ag retailers. With so many crops wilting under the relentless heat and drought of our past summer, being grateful for the food that was produced is paramount. Although farmers get the lion’s share of credit for growing our food, they are not alone in their endeavor. Many are involved with producing the food before it gets to the kitchen table.

During the holidays, it’s good to remember all of the hands that are involved with producing food. From the manufacturer of the tools farmers use to the distribution system that transports our food, there are many people to thank. In our slice of the industry, ag retailers, crop consultants and farm managers are often overlooked. They provide valuable information to farmers and assist them in making critical nutrient, agronomic and application decisions.

This group of ag professionals wouldn’t have the expertise they do without the contribution of scientists. Their research into better, enhanced seed, genome sequencing, agronomics, precision agriculture and crop nutrition have allowed more food to be grown all over the world.

Without research, certain plants may have been lost to diseases and pests. Instead, science has helped to develop stronger, hardier, cold tolerant, drought tolerant and salt tolerant varieties and hybrids. Crops are being developed that are resistant to every type of environmental stress.

Whether you support biotechnology or organic agriculture, science has contributed to the understanding of growing and caring for plants in all types of agriculture. Agriculture is full of scientists that have advanced our understanding of agricultural science and plant breeding. One of the biggest names in our industry is Norman Borlaug, who was credited with creating the Green Revolution by making great advances in wheat breeding. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in wheat. He leaves behind an incredible legacy, including the establishment of the World Food Prize, which is an international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Other famous agriculture scientists include George Washington Carver for his work with peanuts, cotton and sweet potatoes, a traditional holiday food. He is also credited as one of the first scientists to use crop rotation to improve yields. We certainly can’t forget the contributions of Orville Redenbacher and his contributions to improved popcorn hybrids.

As the world’s population is expected to increase over the next 20 years, feeding the world will be important. Agricultural science will help the world achieve the leaps needed for food production. Science will continue to help us combat crop pests such as rice blast, soybean rust, stem rust in wheat, corn smut and late blight in potatoes.

More than 600 million people could be fed each year by halting the spread of fungal diseases in the world's five most important crops—rice, wheat, maize, potatoes and soybeans. Recent data further suggests that in 70 percent of cases where infectious disease causes the extinction of a type of animal or plant, an emerging species of fungus is behind the problem.

Without the application of science, our farmers won’t be able to produce higher yields.

So, when you sit down to celebrate a holiday meal this season, remember to be grateful for the science that contributed to the food that is on your table.

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