Ricketts joins panel on biotechnology in farming during D.C. visit, calls for productivity, innovation

WASHINGTON — Faster-growing salmon, apples that don’t turn brown when cut, disease-resistant livestock — these all represent the genetically engineered agriculture of the future.

Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts joined a panel of experts Thursday to discuss the potential of biotechnology in farming at the annual Agriculture Outlook Forum outside Washington, D.C.

Ricketts said a growing population and higher living standards will require the global food supply to double by 2050.

“Because we’re not making any more land, 70 percent of that is going to have to come from productivity and innovation,” Ricketts said.

He highlighted several Nebraska companies already working on biotech to improve agricultural productivity and touted the importance of easing regulations to allow innovation and job creation in the area.

In an interview with The World-Herald before his formal remarks, Ricketts cited corn yields that have skyrocketed over time as the sort of technological advancement that will help feed a hungry world.

The public is already skeptical about scientists tinkering with what’s on their plate, however. And environmental groups have focused on the impact that large-scale agricultural production has on climate change.

Ricketts said that

farmers and ranchers are the “original conservationists” and that it’s incumbent on farm country to do a better job telling its story, including educating the public about where its food comes from.

“Every generation gets a little farther away from the family farm,” Ricketts said.

Farm country is hurting these days in large part because of trade disruptions that have helped depress crop prices.

Nebraska farm income for 2018, for example, is expected to fall to its lowest level since 2002, according to economists with the Nebraska Business Forecast Council.

Still, Ricketts said things are looking up, citing deals negotiated by the Trump administration such as a rewrite of NAFTA that still has to be approved by Congress.

“We’re making great progress,” Ricketts said. “I’d always like to see faster progress.”

On other topics:

  • Ricketts said he defers to constitutional scholars as to whether Trump has the legal authority to declare a national emergency in order to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. But he backed the president on his ultimate goal.

“The president has rightly assessed that we’ve got a problem on our southern border, that we have never seen things like these caravans that are coming up from central America,” he said. “We’ve got to have a secure border. We’re not a nation if we don’t have borders and we’ve got to find a way to address it.”

“We’ve tried this in the past. It does not work. This is the whole lesson of the 1990s. We raised sales and income tax to get property tax relief, and by the end of the decade all we had was record high property taxes. Raising taxes on one group of people to give somebody else tax relief is not tax relief.”

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