Looking Positively at World Food Prize

Ag Secretary Vilsack Sees Transformational Moment in Agriculture

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Cynthia Rosenzweig, the 2022 World Food Prize laureate, leads a discussion with other NASA scientists at the Norman Borlaug Dialogue about the tools the agency can provide for modeling climate forecasts for crop production. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

DES MOINES (DTN) -- Despite "dire headlines" about global food security, the "weaponizing of food" and the impact of weather disasters on agriculture, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sought to end the World Food Prize forum looking for an upbeat theme going forward.

Vilsack closed out the three-day Norman Borlaug Dialogue event Thursday that drew more than 700 people from more than 60 countries. It was the first time since 2019 the dialogue had been held in person. The annual event, meant to bring attention to global food security, recognizes the legacy of 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, a wheat breeder considered the father of the "Green Revolution."

Much of Vilsack's speech was touting the $2.8 billion in 70 grants announced by USDA last month for the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities, as well as the $19.5 billion provided in the Inflation Reduction Act for USDA conservation programs. Most of that funding will be directed to conservation efforts on farms that reduce agricultural emissions and sequester carbon. Vilsack said these programs will lead to new sources of income for producers.

"There are ways in which we can provide new revenue streams and income sources for farmers," he said.

The push on climate-smart agriculture was buoyed heavily by more than 1,000 grant applications involving farmers, agricultural groups and corporations, Vilsack said. All the various partners in the grant applications reflect that agriculture is shifting to more sustainable practices. Vilsack pointed out the grants that have been awarded will connect to more than 50,000 farms and involve more than 25 million acres.

"This is a transformational moment for agriculture," Vilsack said. "This is a chance to do a lot of things that need to be done in agriculture, not just on climate, not just on productivity, not just on genetics, but also on profitability."

While the focus the last 40 years has been on increasing productivity, that needs to continue if farmers are going to feed the world, Vilsack said. At the same time, "We have to make sure that it's not only sustainable, but also profitable so that we have this now transformational moment. We have an opportunity to save agriculture, not just in the U.S., but around the world."

Pointing to a strategy of a "bio-based" economy, the secretary talked about plans to convert agricultural waste into products that replace fossil fuels. He also highlighted the potential of a 35-billion-gallon aviation fuel market for renewable fuels. Sustainable aviation fuel could more than double the capacity of the current biofuels industry, he said.

"Do you see the amazing transformation that is taking place here?" Vilsack said.


Shahryar Ali Khan, agricultural minister of Pakistan, spoke at the Borlaug Dialogue about his country's efforts to recover from record flooding that has plagued the country since mid-summer. The flooding hit the heart of farm production in his country, creating massive lakes that have not receded. Khan, in a brief interview with DTN, said millions of people remain displaced. He estimated the losses financially at about $40 billion.

"We have suffered huge losses. We have lost too many lives. Then, the average farmer lost all of their wealth. They have lost their animals. Everything was lost in the flood. So now they don't have any food, and they don't have any animals."

About 70% of Pakistan's population are farmers, who have now been given free seeds from the government and some breaks on different taxes. "We have given them the seeds so they can have a crop, and they will be able to sell it," Khan said. "So, we've been supporting them, and we are thankful to the world for supporting us in different ways."

Khan noted the U.S. has been the country providing the most direct food aid to Pakistan, delivering 22 cargo planes of food aid thus far.

In terms of rebuilding, Khan said the floods have made the country's leaders realize they must invest in dams. "More rains will be like this. It will come again. So, we should have more dams. We should have more flood infrastructure, and for that, we need money," he said.

Asked during a panel discussion about one area where he believes the biggest support is needed for Pakistani farmers long term, Khan said farmers need better access to technology, especially in areas such as seeds and inputs.

"I think it is time for the rest of the world to start sharing technologies for food crops," Khan said. "It's time for the multinational companies to invest in different countries," he added, "to give us the good seed so we can produce more."


Other agricultural ministers are looking at ways to reduce their reliance on foreign food. Zulfikar Mustapha, the agricultural minister of Guyana, said his country now has a policy to reduce food imports by at least 25% to "reduce shocks to our economy" as well as revive some rural areas in the country.

"As a government, we want to diversify and produce more food," Mustapha said.


Antonina Broyaka was a dean of economics at the Vinnytsia National Agrarian University in Ukraine, but she was forced to flee the country after the war broke out. With some contacts and support, Broyaka is now working as an Extension associate at Kansas State University.

Broyaka spoke about the current challenges of agriculture in Ukraine and the outlook for recovery at a side event hosted by the group Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture. She pointed to the 8 million metric tons of grain that have moved out of ports in Odessa, Ukraine, since the Black Sea agreement was reached. It's still a fraction of Ukraine's typical exports.

"That equaled one month of exports before the war began," she said.

The damage to railroads, grain elevators and farms themselves will require some temporary storage options for Ukrainian farmers. USAID and others are looking to support storage bags. Fertilizer will remain a problem going into next spring.

"The push for Ukrainian farmers is getting paid and having the courage to put in a crop again next year," said Mike Michener, a deputy administrator for USAID.

Broyaka said she's concerned Russian President Vladimir Putin will reject attempts to extend the Black Sea grain export agreement. "Putin is already saying he wants to quit," she said, adding, "Russia can always play the game of open and close" with the ports.

Jay Vroom, former CEO of CropLife America who farms in Illinois, criticized Russia's efforts to use grain exports as leverage.

"He has made food a weapon and the denial of food to people," Vroom said, adding it needs to be stated more that "weaponing food is just a profoundly troubling thing."

Vilsack, in his remarks later at the dialogue, made a similar comment, saying, "Food should never, ever be used as a weapon of war" as Russia has done and "the world should clearly say it's inappropriate."


In a ceremony Thursday night at the Iowa State Capitol, Cynthia Rosenzweig received the 2022 World Food Prize for her work focusing on climate models and the impact on agriculture.

Rosenzweig is a research scientist and leads the Climate Impacts Group at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

In her speech, Rosenzweig stressed the challenges that climate change poses to food security.

"As we move into this crucial decade of action on climate change, food needs to be at the table," she said.

Also see:

"USAID Chief: Other Countries Need to Step up Humanitarian Aid," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Climate Change Will Slow Midwest Yield Increases for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Conflict, Productivity, Climate and Innovation Drive Global Food Security Focus," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Chris Clayton