The chancellor emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis stressed the need for a fourth agricultural revolution, or an "evergreen revolution" where science and "sensible public policy" combine.
Dr. William Danforth spoke Thursday on "The Miracles of Agricultural History" for the seventh annual Veryl L. Riddle Distinguished History Lecture. About 100 people attended the lecture in Dempster Hall at Southeast Missouri State University.
Although he is not a farmer, Danforth comes from a family associated with agriculture. His grandfather, William Danforth, introduced pelletized animal feeds and began the company now known as Nestle Purina PetCare. The Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis focuses on increasing agricultural production and enhancing plants' nutrition.
The lecture spanned from when hunters and gatherers spent their entire existence finding food to modern times where people can walk into a grocery store for safe, convenient food.
"It wasn't always like this. We forget the painful progress to modern agriculture," Danforth said.
The first agricultural revolution began about 11,000 years ago, with domestication of plants and animals, and about 5,000 years later crude forms of irrigation resulted in people being able to do more than simply produce food. Administrators, potters, writers and the like developed, and the population grew with increased food, Danforth said.
The second agricultural revolution began in the 1700s with the advent of new technology. People had more time for thinking, wealth accumulated and people's health improved. However, nutrition wasn't the same as it is today.
"Old records show that in 1700 an average Frenchman consumed half the number of calories as his counterpart today," Danforth said. The average Frenchman was a little over 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighed 103 pounds, while today the average is 5 feet 10 inches and 158 pounds, he said.
The most recent agricultural revolution, known as the "Green Revolution," aimed to help farmers in Mexico increase wheat production. The program expanded to Asia in the 1960s.
Despite these accomplishments, Danforth said demand for food is at all-time highs, reserves of fresh water are falling, fertilizers are polluting rivers, and climate changes are threatening production.
Danforth said scientists and politicians need to move quickly.
"The science is ready. We just need the will," he said.
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