The most promise for science intervening to boost agriculture is going to come from the biology side of science. Engineering has had a fine day, but I think the promise of water projects and irrigation is largely delivered, with some moderate implementation left. Chemistry was a fucking disaster. The increased yields from fertilizers and pesticides were nice, but coming to depend on them is a dangerous way to live in a finite world. The pollution costs have been very high. I always hated chemistry.
I don’t especially love biology, but I think that’s the place to look for big gains in the next few decades. Using fancy-sounding biology to explain and verify agricultural craft is a good way to resurrect it. Even more than that, I am resentfully seeing the need for altered plants. There’s talk of turning annual plants into perennials and getting a crop off for multiple years. We could use plants modified to take up salts. We could use crops better able to withstand dry conditions. That may mean GMO’s, which makes me sulky and resistant. But perhaps they’re too useful a tool to refuse.
In any case, I think it is going to mean a lot of very close biological and agronomic study. How much can you deficit irrigate your crops and what happens to yields next year? What is going to happen to nitrogen uptake in a high carbon atmosphere? Why does good tilth increase water retention in soils? What plants and practices increase soil carbon sequestration? I think the biological sciences hold some answers that will give us an edge, and I’ll take every advantage we can get.