Agricultural leaders are preparing to meet the challenge of feeding a global population of more than 9 billion.
Not only will that world population require twice the amount of food, but that food will need to be raised on existing agricultural land.
Ensuring that foods are easy to grow, hardy and nutritious is key to meeting that challenge, and Missouri is home to many of the minds working to solve that puzzle.
The area of Missouri stretching from St. Louis to Columbia is a research hub for plant science. Within the region, which is home to more plant science Ph.D.s than anywhere else in the world, more than 400 organizations support the work of those researchers.
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is exploring disease-resistant and drought-tolerant crops, biofuels and ways to make foods more nutritionally complete.
“In developing countries, rice is a vital crop but is low in vitamin A, which is important to good eyesight,” says Sam Fiorello, chief operating officer. “We have been working with partners at the International Rice Research Institute helping to develop a golden rice crop where beta carotene in vitamin A is added into that food supply.”
Danforth Center researchers are also working with partners in Uganda and Kenya to improve productivity of another food security crop, cassava. “We want our research to not only benefit the United States, but the entire world,” Fiorello says.
About 100 miles west of St. Louis, a partnership between local government, the University of Missouri, and Missouri Technology Corporation brought a research center and business incubator to a town of 11,000.
When the Mexico Plant Science Center opened in 2011, Soy Labs, LLC was the first company in the new facility. Ryan Schmidt, executive director of Soy Labs, is optimistic for the Mexico Plant Science Center as a launch pad for new researchers and companies.
In Soy Labs’ space at the Center, researchers are exploring opportunities to add more soy protein to mainstream consumer food products.
“Our scientists are focusing on how soy protein can be added to everyday foods to combat obesity, Type 2 diabetes, prostate issues, osteoporosis and cancer,” Schmidt says.
The Soy Labs team has already seen success in their efforts to feed those in need. Last year, more than $20,000 worth of their soy-based nutritional supplement CareFast went to food banks in St. Louis and southeastern Missouri through a partnership with the Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Farmers’ Care and the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
Success stories like those from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the Mexico Plant Science Center are only a small sample of work done in the region.