By Chris Adams

Sonny Ramaswamy is optimistic that society has the technological capability to produce enough food to feed the world. Whether it can get that food where it needs to be will take more effort.

In a session on the future of food and farming with fellows of the National Press Foundation, the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture detailed how much of the globe faces a threat to nutritional security. Globally, he said, 800 million people go to bed at night hungry. In the U.S., there are 17 million households that are food insecure. And he listed a litany of other problems, including climate change, drought and the transportation mismatches that leave food piling up in one part of the country when it’s needed elsewhere.

That said, the agriculture sector is making significant progress tackling those problems. “By the year 2050 or the year 2100, despite all those externalities, we’re going to have it figured out,” he said.

Ramaswamy’s agency provides funding for research into ways to boost crop production, mitigate the threat of pests, and reduce what he calls the “ecological footprint” left by food production. That footprint includes the amount of water and energy consumed, and the amount of greenhouse gasses pumped into the air by the food and agriculture sectors.

Cutting that footprint by half is an official goal of his agency (spelled out in NIFA’s most recent budget request).

Ramaswamy detailed other NIFA efforts, ranging from efforts to cut food waste to the deployment of robot sensors that can detect and treat pesticides in a highly targeted manner. He also described the story of a Georgia farmer, who used sensors, optimal varieties, irrigation, fertilizers, pest control and advanced analytics to produce a corn yield on his farm that is nearly triple the national average.