NGFA’s Gordon noted: “Advancements in crop-production technology may bring about more drought- and disease-resistant varieties that further improve yields. But thus far, production increases attributable worldwide to biotech crops have been overshadowed by production and yield gains resulting from improved plant breeding and agronomic practices. Biotech clearly can help us feed the world, but it’s not the sole answer to growing U.S. ag productivity. We also need to access more acres idled under the Conservation Reserve Program and to intensify production on existing planted acreage. As more biotech crops are authorized and adopted into production practices in more countries, productivity gains should continue.”
While research investment is essential in overcoming future production challenges, gaining the public’s support of biotechnology must also be a high priority.
“GMOs have been transformational within the industry, but the challenge is to educate and communicate the benefits of GMOs as well as to acknowledge — from a long-term impact perspective — that a lot is still unknown,” Hund says. “The industry must do a much better job in addressing this issue with the public.”
Uldrich predicts the environmental community future — especially sustainability advocates — will shift its stance on GMOs sooner than later.
“I think in the near future they will say, ‘If these GMOs require less water, less energy, fewer herbicides and pesticides — that’s a pretty good deal,’ ” he predicts. “If you start comparing those inputs to the inputs of organic crops that are very energy intensive, then from a sustainability perspective they’re going to get onboard. However, I also think the environmental community is going to fracture over this issue.”
As the scientific, economic and human imperatives make the case for GMOs, the continued advancements in genomics will need to be studied, regulated and addressed by objective parties to ensure stability of the technology and mediate safety concerns.
“I’m personally of the opinion that there are overall more net positives from genetic modification of crops, but I don’t want to minimize the risks the opposition points out,” Uldrich says. “There are legitimate concerns there, but I’m more confident our regulatory system will go to the far extreme to support these positives than I am worried about GMOs running rampant.”
GMO identification and segregation will continue to cause industry adaptation until governments lessen restrictions to allow GMOs into their food supplies. Paul Philips, Maxi-Lift’s executive vice president of sales, marketing and operations, adds: “I think people in the industry will really need to look at that and figure out how that fits with the overall needs of the world because we are the grocery store to the world.”
Biotech supporters are less concerned with whether or not the technology will be available, but more so with the ability for individuals in most impoverished nations to be able to afford to feed themselves.
Faster, bigger, better
Who better to gauge the future of the industry than those with their finger on its pulse everyday. Equipment suppliers for the grain handling and feed manufacturing industries tend to agree on one thing: The industry is shrinking.
“In the future there will be fewer players due to consolidation,” predicts Scott Chant, president of SafeGrain/Maxi-Tronic, Inc. “The companies that are left are going to be very efficient. To survive you’ll have to be on your toes to still be considered a player in the game.”
Facilities will continue to grow larger, with enhanced material handling capabilities, more automation and fewer employees. Greg Ver Steeg, vice president of marketing, Sudenga Industries, feels new software technology and advanced robotics will bring the industry to “a level of automation we can’t comprehend.”
“I think investments in automation and technology have to be the No. 1 goal of the industry,” says Mike Nelson, director of business development with Repete. “Stay as up-to-date on technology as you can because it moves so fast. If you’re not embracing tech, you’re going to get left behind.”
Mark Dohnalek, marketing director of RBHM&E, notes that the domestic regulatory environment is making some long-term shifts in facility management. “[Regulations] are forcing the industry to really reflect and invest in new areas. It has become a head wind to conducting business differently, and will no doubt continue to do so.”
As regulation influences and deters capital investments, Uldrich urges companies to internalize the idea that while certain technologies are expensive today, they will only get better, faster and cheaper.