Kentucky bourbons and wines, cattle, soybeans, and other foodstuffs have found a niche in the huge, developing markets of Asia. South America, too, is beginning to open up as a major importer of American agricultural goods.
The growth of those international markets, as both population and incomes rise, is key to the remarkable expansion of Kentucky farm sales over the last decade—about one third of the state’s agricultural production is exported. Despite losing roughly $1 billion of tobacco and equine sales during this time, farm gate receipts have increased by about $2 billion. There are many positive factors in this success, but soaring grain prices driven by global demand is the largest.
Many forecasters predict that demand for food and agricultural products will grow faster than supplies over the next few decades. Some even conclude our long era of cheap commodities and food is coming to an end, or at least, long-lasting changes are under way.
The most recent estimates are that world food production must double by 2040 to meet the global demand. How is this possible if most of the planet’s cultivable land with available fresh water is already in production? If these projections are to be realized, the pace of improvements in yield and productivity that we have enjoyed for several decades must be sustained, and possibly increased. Clearly, the need for agricultural research and technology transfer is as great as it has ever been.
Similarly, in a globalized economy America’s universities can expect that an increasing fraction of our graduates will travel and work beyond our borders. This issue of the magazine includes a profile of Scott Hostetler, a 1988 graduate of the Landscape Architecture program, who founded one of the world’s largest international landscape architecture design firms. His company has offices in four Asian cities and employs hundreds of designers worldwide.
International travel experience is one of the best ways we can help the graduates of our college become world-ready. Faculty-led study trips are nothing new—we have sustained a student exchange with a university in Dijon, France since 1991—but we appear to be on target to set a record this summer, with six organized groups of up to 14 students each slated to go to France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark, Argentina, the Czech Republic, and Ghana.
While the world is growing in population and, in many regions, wealth, it appears to be shrinking with regard to communication and interaction. In a future of increasing international competition and collaboration, we can expect increasing demands upon and opportunities for our food and agriculture systems and for the students we graduate. This creates an even greater role for America’s land-grant university system, continuing to lead the way in education, research, and service.