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U.S. grain industry can continue to lead in feeding world

New technology, expanding research and development, attracting top talent and working with governments to shore up critical infrastructure all key.

U.S. agriculture can continue to feed a growing world and meet consumer demand for healthy, nutritious foods by leveraging new technologies, expanding research and development, attracting top talent and working with governments to shore up critical infrastructure.

This was the message Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) chairman and chief executive officer Juan Luciano brought to the National Grain & Feed Assn. in a recent keynote address.

Luciano said his confidence stemmed from the central role U.S. agriculture has played in improving the human condition in recent decades. “Led by the U.S., the world has been able not only to feed a population that has increased by 5 billion since 1950 but also to feed the world a better diet,” he said.

Luciano noted that global poverty has fallen faster in the past 20 years than at any time in history and that the global infant mortality rate in 2015 was about half the rate it was in 1990.

He cited several global trends with broad implications for the agriculture and food industries, including: the emergence of China and India as economic forces rivaling the U.S., growth in consumer demand for nutritious foods and rapid technological innovation, which has led to the widespread use of sensors and satellite imagery in precision farming.

Luciano proceeded to suggest several ways the industry could help feed a global population of 9.6 billion people by 2050 and serve not just as a supplier of consumer goods but also as a provider of nutrition and health. These include:

* Expanding research into yields and drought resistance;

* Deploying emerging technologies, and

* Investing in inland waterways, bridges, roadways and other infrastructure that would help meet the need for greater crop volumes, Luciano said.

He added that the industry would need to continue innovating to develop new products that meet consumer demand for foods that promote health and wellness.

Ongoing technological advances — including increases in computing capacity and cloud storage — may ultimately usher in a new era of “personalized nutrition” as the food industry develops better functional ingredients that target specific health issues, Luciano said.

In terms of public policy, he noted that the industry must make the case that trade in agricultural products is not a zero-sum game. “Climates, crop seasonality and the impact of weather patterns make trade essential for feeding the world, for the health of the global economy and for farmers worldwide,” Luciano said.

Finally, he noted that continued investment in innovation, research and development and young talent are essential for the industry's long-term success.

“Working together, we can ensure that U.S. agriculture will continue the transformational, life-altering gains that have made our world a better place, a more humane place — a place of hope, promise and shared prosperity,” he concluded.

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