We’ve been livetweeting Monsanto’s Water Utilization Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Monsanto and some 250 growers have been meeting to talk about a new biotech trait that more efficiently utilizes water. A couple of time during the meeting yesterday, people following the conversation online asked: why does Monsanto care? One suggested a plot to take over the world’s water supply; such is the tenor of part, fortunately small, of the online conversation in general.
We care about water because our customers – farmers – care about water. It’s that simple. Water is the single greatest limiting factor in agriculture. In a region like the Western Great Plains, water is a constant source of conversation and concern. Average corn yields range from 70 to 130 bushels per acre in dryland conditions, compared to the U.S. average of 152.8
Water is also vitally important for the food all of us eat. On a global scale, it takes 6,800 gallons of water to feed a family of four – for a day.
This story of food and water conservation has three parts.
First is breeding. For a long time, seed producers have been using breeding to select varieties that are “drought-tolerant” – shorthand for saying that they manage to produce a good yield in spite of dry conditions. Water is still critical here, but this breeding work has helped conserve water and still produce the food people need.
Next are agronomic practices. This includes conservation tillage, that helps retain moisture in the soil.
Third is biotech. As part of a collaboration with BASF on yield and stress technologies, Monsanto is developing the industry’s first biotech drought-tolerant trait. Pending government regulatory approval, Monsanto plans field trials of the biotech trait in 2012 and a launch of the product in 2013.
Breeding, agronomic practices and biotech – all three are important for food production. More information can be found on Monsanto’s corporate web site.
One of the best things about a conference like this one is the opportunity to meet and talk with people. A special highlight for me was meeting and talking with Brandon Hunnicutt, president of the Executive Board of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association – also known as @cornfedfarmer on Twitter. During the sessions during the day, I knew he was in the room, because he was doing some livetweeting of his own. At the reception before dinner, we introduced ourselves and spent a few minutes talking about – what else? – Twitter.
It’s been a good meeting. And an important meeting.