Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

The Impact of Agriculture on Delaware’s Economy
Hullihen Hall, University of Delaware
March 23, 2011

Read the UDaily story | Read the report

I thank Robin Morgan for her leadership in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and for commissioning this important study. It’s terrific to be here this morning—especially with Governor Markell and Secretary Kee—to talk about agriculture’s significant economic impact in Delaware. The study captures the vibrancy of the state’s agricultural sector, its economic power, and its central place in our daily lives. We have authors Tom Ilvento and Titus Awokuse to thank for that—along with graduate student Zachary Johnston—and I do thank them all.

It’s maybe tempting to think of farming with some nostalgia—as a sector that enabled a new nation’s prosperity but that’s peripheral to future growth. And yet that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Our most urgent challenges today have agriculture in common, and we have as much riding on farming right now as we did years ago.

The National Research Council has identified four priorities for U.S. leadership in biology-based solutions to global issues: health, energy, environment, and food. UD’s own Path to Prominence provides considerable overlap here, with research priorities in energy, the environment, and health sciences. Intersecting each of these is agriculture.

Health
With a world population projected to jump 50 percent by 2050—to nearly 10 billion people—global food security will be a huge issue. Preventing hunger, ensuring nutrition, and protecting food safety amid the biggest food-demand spike we’ve ever seen will drive the science, technology, and policy of agriculture for some time.

And with most new infectious diseases coming from animal populations—West Nile virus, avian influenza, SARS, mad cow—global public health depends on our intensive study of zoonotic diseases, finding the linkages between animal and human health.

Environment
Agriculture’s link to environmental concerns is well-established. It’s probably cited equally as the culprit and the cure for environmental degradation. But the fact remains that we must improve the safety of our drinking water and restore polluted rivers, streams, and bays. These are—still—serious threats to human health and aquatic ecosystems.

And, speaking of ecosystems, given that 40 percent of U.S. land use is agriculture, how we manage those ecosystems will determine our level of bio-diversity going forward.

With challenges like these, it’s no coincidence that the director of our Delaware Environmental Institute is one of the world’s very best soil scientists, Don Sparks.

Energy
Clean energy goes hand-in-hand with the environment, and we know that agriculture will provide part of the answer to our global energy problem. We’ve already seen some success with first-generation biofuels—corn to ethanol, soy to biodiesel. But even as we’ve witnessed countries become oil-independent through agriculture, we know we need to balance the relationship between food and fuel.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
And so—today—while we’re discussing agriculture’s $8 billion impact on Delaware’s economy, I hope we focus, too, on its amazing potential for better human health, food safety & security, clean air, clean water, clean energy, and healthy ecosystems.

The University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is focused on these things every day. If you talk to the faculty, staff, and students, you can tell they take a long view toward agriculture’s role in the global economy, in environmental quality, in world peace, politics, and prosperity.

Agriculture isn’t the past. Not by a long shot. Agriculture is a critical piece of Delaware’s future and America’s future. And I’m thrilled that this report illustrates just how dynamic and vital it is.

And now I’d like to present the report to Gov. Jack Markell, and thank him for his leadership on behalf of Delaware agriculture.

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