Humans will need to produce more food in the next 40 years than in the previous 10,000 combined. Agricultural researchers love to wow audiences with this mind-blowing fact. Some of this is due to population growth, as we will likely add about another two billion people before leveling off around 2050, but the majority of the growing demand will come from higher standards of living caused by reduced poverty.

Increased free trade and the free enterprise system literally have lifted billions of people out of poverty in our lifetimes. Since the year 2000, over 100 million children’s lives have been saved through advances in infectious disease control. Given the previous alternatives, finding new ways to feed this added population is a welcome problem to have.

If we are going to meet this challenge, the solutions will very likely begin in Missouri. This is not an overstatement. Missouri is the epicenter of agricultural innovation in the world today, often referred to as the Silicon Valley of agriculture. Massive public and private investment in state-of-the-art facilities has helped make Missouri the go-to place for the best and brightest. More than $1 billion of private, locally-sourced venture capital investment has gone into the St. Louis agriculture tech sector since 2000.

The investment is paying off. The St. Louis region now has the highest concentration of plant science Ph.D.’s in the world, with more than 750 calling it home. During the past few decades these scientists have made many of the world’s leading discoveries in animal and plant sciences. Many of the foremost experts in their fields conduct research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington University in St. Louis, the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Monsanto, Novus, Nestle Purina and other partners in the region.

Forward-looking leaders in Missouri are working to play off these strengths and grow the sector even further. The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership has created the 39 North AgTech Innovation District to attract biotechnology startups and venture capital. The district already contains world-class research facilities at the Danforth Center, the Helix Center business incubator, the Bio Research And Development Growth Park and Monsanto’s Creve Coeur campus. With continued investment, 39 North plans to attract new facilities and create an even larger talent pool to fuel the entrepreneurship already taking place.

Missourians should take pride in our leading role in solving one of humanity’s largest problems. Our friends and neighbors are helping to create a world where food is plentiful enough for all, something for which we should all celebrate and give thanks.

Bohl, of Columbia, is director of public affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.

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