As someone whose life has been greatly influenced by agriculture and education, it was very rewarding for me to see the exciting news recently from Iowa State University. School officials reported another year of record enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This fall, 4,291 undergraduates – a 10 percent increase – are focused on promising careers in agriculture. That’s good for the university, good for Iowa and good for the world.
We can’t look at the success of U.S. agriculture today without seeing the guiding hand and impact of education. Thanks to improved genetics, technology and operational practices, we now experience yields and production levels that were unimaginable even a generation ago. Agriculture is increasingly a science-based, knowledge-intensive and globally competitive enterprise.
Today’s American farmer is a model of efficiency and productivity, single-handedly feeding 155 people. That’s more than three times the number that same farmer fed in the early 1960s and eight times as many as prior to World War II. Thanks to U.S. producers and growers, our weekly trip to the supermarket ensures us the safest and most reliable food supply in the world. We have the highest quality and the greatest choices while paying the least of any global culture, just 9.4 percent of our yearly income.
So how did U.S. agriculture get here? It came through our fervent commitment to education – that exchange of academics and practical experience, the blending of scientific research and entrepreneurialism, and our insatiable need to find solutions to the most challenging problems. Agriculture pioneers and innovators such as George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug forever changed the face of agriculture and how to feed a growing global population. Today, their vision and research continue to inspire students around the globe and here in Iowa.
Since 2005, ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has experienced a remarkable 75 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment. These students are acutely aware of the major issues facing society. They know about the world’s population trends and are concerned that within their lifetime, Earth’s population may grow to exceed the planet’s ability to provide food and clean water. They are aware of the need to develop renewable energy resources, and they believe that climate and weather patterns are shifting. In their search for the right college, they are attracted to places that actively seek practical solutions to the world’s pressing problems. What they’re finding is that colleges of agriculture are those places.
Regardless of a student’s major or career path, agricultural colleges are providing skills beyond a specific field of study. They’re teaching students to make more informed decisions by improving their problem-solving, critical-thinking and communications skills. Whether a student intends to farm, start a business, work in a research laboratory or become a veterinarian, that foundation is invaluable.
Those of us in agriculture continue to have a huge responsibility to articulate to the world why science and technology are critical to feed the world. Although the challenges in front of us are enormous, we only need to look to our past to see where our future will take us.

Bruce Rastetter is president of the Iowa Board of Regents and also serves as CEO of Summit Group, a diversified, international agribusiness based in Alden, Iowa.