National Academies Press: OpenBook

Science and Food: Today and Tomorrow (1961)

Chapter: Technologic Revolution in Agriculture, Contributions of Science

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Suggested Citation:"Technologic Revolution in Agriculture, Contributions of Science." National Research Council. 1961. Science and Food: Today and Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18719.
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Suggested Citation:"Technologic Revolution in Agriculture, Contributions of Science." National Research Council. 1961. Science and Food: Today and Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18719.
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"Technologic Revolution in Agriculture, Contributions of Science." National Research Council. 1961. Science and Food: Today and Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18719.
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"Technologic Revolution in Agriculture, Contributions of Science." National Research Council. 1961. Science and Food: Today and Tomorrow. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18719.
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Technologic Revolution in Agriculture, Contributions of Science1 J. G. HABKAR Vice President, Rockefeller Foundation The agriculture which is practiced today is as unlike that of fifty years ago as are our modern systems of communication and transportation different from their counterparts at the turn of the century. Although the nostalgic concept of agriculture as a way of life is still expressed on occasion, the fact is that modern crop and animal production is a highly competitive business, and unless producers are either highly efficient or heavily sub- sidized they cannot remain long in the business. The major contribution to the evolution of agricultural practice over the past half century has been derived from basic research in the biological, physical, and engineering sciences in conjunc- tion with improvements in educational patterns, agricultural services, and transportation facilities. Among the most striking are engineering developments which have enabled the agricul- tural producer continually to improve his productivity and at the same time reduce manpower requirements. A variety of modern machines, singly or in combination, prepare, plant, and fertilize the soil, carry out necessary cultivation operations, apply pesti- cides, fungicides, or herbicides, and ultimately harvest the final product. A myriad of other mechanical devices are involved in the procedures of preparation, preservation, or transformation essential to the conversion of crop and animal products into foods or other materials essential to modern standards of living. The next development in mechanized agricultural production will un- (1> A summary prepared by Doctor Harrar of his presentation at the Symposium. 5

doubtedly bring an increasing degree of automation into the entire pattern. Of at least equal importance and dramatic benefit to agriculture has been the broad spectrum of chemical compounds which in- tervenes at every stage of the agricultural process. Modern fertilizer practices have contributed enormously to increased production as a continuing result of research on essential micro- and macro-elements. Similarly, animal metabolism has been controlled to an increasing degree through the use of compounds with specific effects. The protection of crop plants and domestic animals from predators, pests, and weed competitors has reached a high level of efficiency through the use of elaborate chemical substances designed to provide external or systemic protection or prophylaxis. The result has been increasing quantities of high-quality products and a gradual diminution of the annual tribute levied upon the business of agriculture by pests and pathogens. Most plant and animal products require the applications of chemistry to essentially every step in their conversion into con- sumer products, and modern foods, feeds, and fibres have all benefited from chemical transformations or enrichment. In fact, the food industry has undergone major evolution, if not revolu- tion, during the past two decades with the result that high- quality, attractive, domestic, and exotic foodstuffs are available to the American public in continuing supply at reasonable prices. Without in the least deprecating the benefits of technology in the agricultural industry, it is evident that the success of agri- cultural production is in essence a triumph of research. The advances which have been made during recent years in bio- chemistry, plant and animal physiology, microbiology, nutrition, and related disciplines have produced the knowledge upon which present progress has been built. The efficient utilization of this increasing body of knowledge is fundamental to further develop- ments and emphasizes the necessity for continuing and intensified effort for research on all fronts. Superficially, it appears paradoxical that in spite of the spec- tacular progress which has been made in the more developed areas of the world, there are still vast numbers of people who

are underfed, insufficiently clothed, inadequately housed, and barred from reasonable opportunities for decent standards of living. Many factors combine to permit this deplorable situation, and these cannot be easily and immediately changed. The fre- quently expressed thesis that the application of the modern scientific method to agricultural production on a worldwide basis can readily double or treble world food production is meaning- less in the present social context. The problem is not purely one of manpower times mechanics, but rather one consisting of an array of complex considerations, including climate, geography, resources, social and political systems, educational patterns and economics. Thus, while science has much to offer in contributing to the alleviation of undesirable human conditions, science and technology alone are insufficient to the task. They must be joined with intensive and extensive efforts in related disciplines in order that humanitarian efforts may not become simply veneers over unsatisfactory situations, but rather growing points which can develop into patterns of continuing progress and excellence. The scientist has a great opportunity and responsibility in the matter of applying his knowledge to situations where it is urgently needed. His opportunities come through his ability to use his understanding and experience for desirable results. His responsibilities involve the understanding of problems in their broadest context and the willingness to interpret his own field so that it will be understood by others and to coordinate his activities with those of representatives of other disciplines in order that advances can be made on the broad front essential to social and economic progress. The more developed countries of the world cannot indefinitely preserve the status quo without reference to the demands of the less fortunate nations of the world. This fact is recognized, and serious efforts have been launched with the object of helping to improve standards of living and opportunity in those nations where the needs are manifest. We are learning each day that this is a most complicated and difficult endeavor, and that scientific, technical, and other skills are only part of the variety of tools necessary to success. Of great importance is an increasing body of individuals who can practice their professions or apply

their knowledge successfully to other cultures in such ways as to contribute demonstrably to material and other forms of prog- ress and at the same time create patterns of excellence which will in themselves ultimately be taken over, continued, and ex- panded by the qualified nationals of the country concerned. The dramatic success of modern science and technology has brought with it both massive benefits and major responsibilities. If human welfare is to advance globally, the benefits deriving from science must be made to apply effectively to the responsi- bilities which confront all the more favored nations toward helping others to work toward national goals compatible with their potentials. 8

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