This week in Southern California, a diverse group of political, not-for-profit organizations and business leaders are sitting down at Fortune Brainstorm Green to brainstorm ideas and approaches on how to work together to feed, clothe and fuel human activity and to do so in a sustainable way.
Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant and Executive Vice President Jerry Steiner will participate in two separate sessions to discuss agricultural approaches to the global food dilemma. You can watch their presentations and participate live via the Web.
Below is a preview of what you can expect to hear.
Earlier this year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, companies, development organizations, ministers of agriculture and the environment, and environmental groups discussed what agriculture in the 21st century must look like in order to find solutions to hunger, poverty and environmental degradation – issues that affect not only our quality of life but can contribute to civil unrest.
The participants identified goals where agriculture must succeed to meet global needs:
- Improve food security
- Increase agricultural productivity in an environmentally sustainable manner
- Generate economic growth and opportunity.
The key is that the three goals are interrelated and must be pursued simultaneously to address the requirements of billions of more people in the coming decades.
We believe that Monsanto can be a key contributor to one pillar in particular—helping farmers worldwide increase agricultural productivity.
It’s a discussion Monsanto has been having for a couple of years now: the need to produce more and better quality crops while using less resources—all while ensuring farmers reap the benefits. Our goal is to help provide farmers with the necessary tools so they can keep up with the growing demands of society in a sustainable way. Tangibly, this means doubling yields – that’s the output per acre of crops – by 2030 in soybeans, corn, cotton and canola (using the year 2000 as a baseline). And reducing by 1/3 (per unit produced) the key resources such as land, water and energy required to grow these crops.
When this is achieved, it will be the equivalent of putting an additional 145.5 million acres into production – an area about the size of Texas.
What does that look like?
Here’s what we think is possible in corn, soybean and cotton here in the U.S.:
How can it be done?
Not through biotechnology alone. Though biotech gets most of the attention, breeding and agronomic practices have always played a crucial part in improving yields. You can learn more about the difference in biotech, breeding and agronomic practices here. However, in simpler terms, you can think of it this way (using corn as an example):
- Breeding is mating different corn plants together to create a new corn hybrid that has the best genetic potential, whether that be for yield, disease resistance, etc.
- Biotechnology protects that potential from outside factors that would reduce yield. Those include insect damage and weed competition as well as weather factors. Some farmers think of it as insurance.
- Agronomic Practices – These are the elements within a farmer’s control to again protect and promote that yield (such as irrigation practice, planting population, etc.
Here’s a graphical representation of how those three elements will improve corn yields by 2030:
Historical yield trend would bring the endpoint of the corn yield trend line to approximately 200 bushels/acre on its own. The combination of biotechnology, breeding and agronomic practices will incrementally increase the rate of gain.
It can be done. For example, in the U.S., farmers are doing a great job of increasing their productivity.
- Since 1948, they have increased crop production by 137% by adopting innovative farming practices.
- Between 1970 and 2009, the average corn yield has doubled from approximately 75 bushels/acre to more than 160 bushels/acre in 2009.
- That has reduced the number of acres in production by 25% allowing society to divert the land to other uses.
We hope farmers around the world will have the same choices and access to the innovative tools that U.S. farmers use every day.