PULLMAN, Wash. — Farmers are at the center of the solutions to many of the world’s problems, including the burgeoning population, the head of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture says.
Delivering Washington State University’s Sam Smith Lecture, NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy said the growing population is the largest “wicked problem,” from which related problems with food, water, the environment, climate change, energy, health and poverty arise.
Farmers will play a critical role in addressing those problems, Ramaswamy said. He thanked today’s farmers for their work, noting they have one of the hardest jobs possible.
“Everything we’re going to do is with farmers sitting in the middle,” he said. “He or she drives it.”
Ramaswamy said one of the top 21st Century food system challenges is boosting farm productivity and income. He pointed to the possible use of robotics to reduce the reliance on labor, sensors to detect problems in the field and exploring closed-loop farming systems, in which each part of the system feeds into another.
In some quarters, farmers have stopped relying on land-grant universities, Ramaswamy said, partly because they don’t think they need them and partly because the universities don’t address their interests.
Ramaswamy advised farmers to contact research leaders and keep abreast of the projects to ensure that research is relevant to their operations.
“If we’re not doing right, come and kick our butts,” he said.
NIFA supports research, education and extension programs in the land-grant university system, according to the agency website.
Ramaswamy previously was dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University.