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Borlaug: Technology will open up possibilities in ag

Julie Borlaug, associate director for external relations for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture speaks about the future of technology at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

Julie Borlaug, associate director for external relations for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture speaks about the future of technology at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

The Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum annually brings together industry leaders and professionals to open up a dialogue on the future possibilities for the agricultural industry.

One of whom learned from a young age the lesson that technological breakthroughs in agriculture play a key role in the success of farm families around the world.

Julie Borlaug is the associate director for external relations for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. While many in agriculture know Dr. Norman Borlaug as a pioneer and the leader of the Green Revolution, she just called him “grandpa.”

Borlaug spoke at the Ag Issues Forum about how a misinformed public, a fearful public, is slowing down the next revolution in feeding and advancing the lives of billions around the world.

“Fear of change is the biggest obstacle to progress,” she said. “My grandfather was a huge supporter of the private sector, and he wanted to use technology in the battle against hunger.”

She said March 25 would be her grandfather’s 100th birthday, and if he were still here he’d say that there was too much talk and not enough action.

“My call to action? I want to move beyond the unnecessary arguments to create a movement that is inclusive and provides for the next generation,” Borlaug said.

Part of the problem is that for years the agricultural sector thought it could win the day solely by talking about the science and using scientists as point people for the public. Ag is often perceived by consumers as exaggerating the food situation or they think that things really could not be that desperate as farmers and agribusiness say.

“These people have never seen a shortage in their lifetime, though,” she said. “We talk about being tolerant and yet we speak in agricultural lingo.”

Clever social campaigns by the anti-ag movement work, specifically because they target the people who don’t know any better, she said.

As a mother, Borlaug said she talks with other mothers and university students and anti-science activists and tries to instead create a dialogue that brings in more heart and less science.

One example she gave was the wheat fungus UG99, and how developing a genetically modified wheat that could be resistant to this fungus could help save the world’s wheat supply and particularly in Africa. Without technology, we will continue to see women working in the fields in Africa, backbreaking labor weeding and caring for crops. Or we’ll see their children stopping their education earlier because they’ll be needed in the fields rather than the classrooms.

“How can you say you are for women’s rights and yet not give them the modern tools to move beyond?” Borlaug asked. “It is enslaving women.”

And yet, there are those that would have today’s farmers turn back the clock, revert back to the production methods of their grandfathers in some romantic notion of agriculture.

“There is nothing romantic or simple about farming,” she said. “If you don’t understand that, then see for yourself. Organic production isn’t working for Africa and it hasn’t been working for a long time. But, we are condemning African growers to this because we can’t bring technology to them.”

The solution is to take the technology discussion to the farmer, and let them decide, Borlaug said.

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