TOWANDA, Ill. — Agriculture faces challenges on multiple fronts as the industry addresses the needs of an increasing population.

Misinformation, population shifts to urban areas, politics, opposition groups and a slow regulatory process are among the challenges agriculture faces on a daily basis, according to Jeff Williams, Monsanto Midwest community affairs manager.

“When we’re out there talking to people, it’s always good to give accurate information about modern agriculture,” Williams said at the recent Soy Capital Ag Services field day. “I don’t think people realize how much agriculture is actually the epicenter of a lot of the issues that are facing the world today.”

Those issues include an increasing global population and protein demand, biofuel demand through the Renewable Fuels Standard and global food security. The world population in 1970 was 3.7 billion and is projected to reach 8.4 billion in the next 15 years.

“Someone is going to have to feed them with fewer resources,” Williams said. “To keep up with population growth, more food will have to be produced in the next 50 years than has been produced in the past 10,000 years.

“Today the U.S. farmer feeds 155 people. It was just 26 in 1960. Farmers today grow twice as much food as their parents did using less land, energy and water with few emissions. That goes back to sustainability, which is, obviously, a huge issue.”

Production growth has had a domino effect on the economy as farmers now are a direct lifeline to more than 24 million jobs.

“I don’t think people realize how big of an impact agriculture has on other industries,” Williams said.

Advancements in science have provided a major boost to crop productivity to help meet demands.

“A record 17.3 million farmers in 28 countries planted 420 million acres of biotech crops in 2012,” Williams said. “That’s an increase of 6 percent (or 25 million acres) over 2011, so anybody that tells you it’s a dwindling idea is just flatly mistaken.”

The shift toward increased urban populations has transformed the political landscape. Referring to the 2012 election, Williams said a majority of the votes are from centralized urban areas.

“So it’s pretty frightening when you think about ag policy and other rural issues not only in the next four years, but also way down the road,” he said.

Williams also noted the “polarization of Congress” and its impact.

“Basically, the U.S. House has become more polarized over time,” he said. “More seats are held by those in safe districts than 20 years ago, and more representatives are more likely to lose a primary challenge than they are in a general.

“So what you’re seeing is your ultraliberals and older conservatives appeal to their bases and are focusing on winning their primaries. That means there is little incentive to compromise, especially in D.C., and that’s why you’re seeing a lot of stuff just grinding to a halt because nobody is willing to come to the middle.

“I’ve worked with a lot of legislators over the years, and I can honestly tell you the main objective of 95 percent of them is to get reelected. This is just proof positive of that.

“Congressional approval hovers near a three-decade low. What does this mean for agriculture? Rural American has less representation in Washington today than it has in any time in history.

“Agriculture needs to meaningfully address the knowledge gap between the productions, the consumers and our legislators. It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. Basically, policymakers need to understand agriculture a little bit better.”

He urged farmers and others in the agriculture industry to contact their legislators and voice their concerns.

Agriculture also faces opposition from various groups such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

“These guys have figured out how to play the game. They’re well funded. They’re out there talking to legislators, and they’re making progress,” Williams said.

“You see some of the Humane Society commercials and you have Fido with a limp and you’d be surprised how many heartstrings that tugs, but I think their main objective is to shut down production agriculture.

“We’re seeing some intensified activists pressure and volume with grassroots activists at a local level. We’re seeing a lot of them on social media.

“You can say anything you want to on Facebook or any of these other internet sites, and there is just no recourse for your actions. You can make any claim you want to.”

There also has been a push to require special labels for genetically modified food, including a proposed legislation in Illinois.

“There are a lot of industries out there that are supporting us in this fight, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association. They obviously realize if this labeling is mandatory there is going to be significant costs passed down the consumers,” Williams said.

“We agree with the FDA labeling policy, which basically states there is no significant difference in the food produced using bioengineering and their conventional counterparts.

“We stand by our products. The science is on our side, so for that reason alone we are not going away on this issue.

“Food should be labeled in a way that is useful to consumer and just required to be truthful and not misleading. We do support voluntary labeling.

“We just don’t feel it should be mandatory. The labels are out there. If you want to buy organic, it’s clearly labeled. There stores like Whole Foods that cater to this.”

Another hurdle hampering agriculture’s ability to grow and meet production challenges is the slow regulatory process for approving new products from the research pipeline.

“We had hoped to introduce our new product Roundup Ready 2 in 2014. We got some bad news several months ago that (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) was going to perform and environmental impact statement,” Williams said.

“Dow’s 2,4-D was also included in that. USDA and (the Environmental Protection Agency) have to complete it. All we’re doing is still trying to stay focused on the science and just relaying the fact that there’s a great benefit to the grower because we believe in the product.”

Williams noted the increased deregulation time over the past three presidential administrations.

During the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001, there were 115 new products deregulated with a maximum deregulation time of 29 months and an average of 6.3 months.

The Bush administration deregulated 26 new products between 2001 and 2009 with a maximum deregulation time of 57 months and an average of 20.

“During the Obama administration, so far we have had 16 products deregulated with an average time of 35 months and a maximum of 83. That’s pretty spooky. It’s kind of hard to get a new product out there, virtually impossible,” Williams said.

“How do we stack up against other countries in the regulator process? We’re behind Canada. Argentina and Brazil’s times are essentially nothing compared to ours. This is not the right way to be going for new products.

“As an industry, we want to get the word out there that what we’re doing is a good thing and we believe in our products.

“So in conjunction with Dow, DuPont and others we have opened a website — GMO answers. Hopefully, we can spread the word as far what we’re doing, the science behind it and why we believe in it.”