Tomorrow’s crops could look quite different from those grown today, according to World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta. He sees consumer demand playing a larger role in the plant breeding sector in the future.
“What will change plant breeding the most, in my opinion, is what the consumers will eventually say, what they want to eat, and how what they want to eat affects their health,” says Ejeta, a Presidential Fellow for Food Security and Global Sustainable Development and Purdue University distinguished professor of plant breeding and genetics.
Ejeta believes consumers, through their preferences and buying habits, will increasingly influence the products plant breeders produce in the future. He believes the change will come as consumers learn more about the health effects of what they are eating.
What consumers say
Recently, consumers said that healthfulness matters more in their decision-making process. That is according to the 2020 Food and Health Survey by the International Food Information Council. This survey also found a significant increase in the number of Americans following a diet in 2020. In the survey, 43% of Americans reported they were following a diet, compared to 36% in 2018.
“As health services get sophisticated, individuals begin to individually design, need or want individual health services,” Ejeta says. “It will also affect the food services they demand and what food will predominantly be in the food market.”
The internationally recognized agronomist believes plant breeders will begin breeding crops with more emphasis on nutritional qualities. This change could result in a more diverse food market featuring more specialty crops. These crops have naturally high nutritional values.
Food production evolves
Ejeta says future farms may also look different. He sees a future with new crops being grown on the farm. At the same time, he envisions the potential for more urban crop production.
Urban consumers are already growing more of their own produce and other food, especially following food supply shortages experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A national survey by Bonnie Plants showed that nearly 2 of every 5 Americans under 35 are growing food. Consumers are gaining access to lower-cost fresh produce while increasing sustainability of the food production system. Even as supermarkets returned to normal, about 80% of first-time gardeners in 2020 reported planning to continue in 2021. That’s according to a national survey by Griffin, a large horticultural supply company.
Ejeta believes plant breeders may increasingly focus on crops suitable for vertical farming or urban agriculture. Vertical farming refers to indoor or containerized production systems where plants are often stacked during the growing process. The result could be more people raising their own food or eating food grown locally in more intense production systems.
Matthews is a senior in ag communication at Purdue University.