Coming up in December, I'll be honored to give the keynote address at the Field Crops Rust Symposium in San Antonio. Crop rust – wheat stem rust, in particular – is a topic we’ve spent a lot of time with in recent years, and we’re making fresh progress (see this recent paper) toward mapping and understanding the threat both in Africa and here in the U.S.

Here’s some context: The world population is expected to reach seven billion next year. We’ll hit nine billion sometime around 2050. If we want to feed the world at affordable prices, it’s going to take substantial increases in agricultural productivity. And we’ll need to make extra effort to make sure our productivity gains of the past are sustained.

That’s not exactly what we’re seeing at the moment. Recent and recurring spikes in global food prices are occurring against a pattern of slowing productivity growth in many countries of the world. At the same time, we’re seeing renewed crop pest pressures that undermine past improvements in yields.

Donald Groth, Louisiana State University AgCenter, Bugwood.org

This talk will provide a quantitative and conceptual perspective on the relationship between R&D, agricultural productivity growth and food security – but with a particular emphasis on the crop pest dimensions. I’ll be sharing the latest global, geo-spatial evidence on the likelihood of occurrence of stem, stripe and leaf rust, and talking about its implications for global wheat production. This evidence will also illustrate how new modeling methods can be used to inform strategic research investment choices and policy decisions regarding the amount and priorities to place on research and other actions designed to ameliorate the biotic stresses that limit crop production.

I’ll have more thoughts here as the event approaches. In the meantime, you can explore our work on wheat rust and other pest threats on the Pests and Diseases section of the HarvestChoice web site.

(Top image: USDA/Public Domain; Bottom image: Donald Groth, Louisiana State University AgCenter, Bugwood.org)