About “Beyond the Rows”

Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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The Future of Food

As a Brit living in the United States, I have immensely enjoyed all the attention my former stomping grounds have been receiving lately due to the Royal Wedding. Watching my future king walk down the aisle, and having my American friends and family celebrate with me, was incredible and exciting.

So when His Royal Highness (HRH) the Duke of Cambridge’s father, otherwise known as HRH The Prince of Wales or Prince Charles and my immediate future king, visited the U.S recently to speak on food and agriculture at the Future of Food conference in Washington D.C., I paid attention.

And I found a lot I agreed with. But also some key ideas that I didn’t agree with.

I agree that “we have to maintain a supply of healthy food at affordable prices.” I wholeheartedly concur that the big questions are “how can we create a more sustainable approach to agriculture while recognizing those wider and important social and economic parameters – an approach that is capable of feeding the world with a global population rapidly heading for nine billion? And can we do so amid so many competing demands on land, in an increasingly volatile climate and when levels of the planet’s biodiversity are under such threat or in serious decline?”

I understand “food insecurity is a growing problem.” And I fully agree that a key resource that is being stressed is water.

I even agree with some of the Prince of Wales’ solutions. We need to continue our use of conservation agriculture, specifically conservation tillage, where soil depletion is stopped via the use of crop residue and key natural nutrients are protected from erosion. We need to reduce the amount of run-off that studies claim are impacting our oceans. And investment around the world in more sustainable farming practices should be encouraged at all levels.

But then we come to a difference in opinion. Prince Charles sees the solution in organic and local, and sees no solutions in biotech crops or a system where large companies invest in developing better seeds. I, on the other hand, see a place for both, and am fully convinced if people are willing to be open-minded that we can exist side-by-side.

Organic and local is great if you can afford it. If you have the extra time and manpower, and the climate in which to grow a large variety of foods, that’s great. In the old country, it is very common for people to have plots of land where we grow our own vegetables, and most back yards have some vegetables being grown in them. Prince Charles has spent many years farming using organic practices on his own farm, and I commend him for it.

But I just can’t see how we can feed a rapidly growing world, with limited land and resources, using just organic seeds and practices. I see the work being done now to develop seeds that use water and fertilizers more efficiently, and biotech designed to protect the potential of those traits, and the utilization of more technology and better agronomics on the farm, as being part of the answer. How do you feed 9 billion people is the question. Organic farming by itself is not the answer.

When I look at the crop yields from 2008 in the U.S., using biotech, advanced breeding and technology, I see corn yields of 160 bushels per acre. In Brazil, India and Mexico, where technology and biotech are new to the neighborhood, you see 50 bushels per acre. In Africa, where biotech is almost non-existent when you look at the entire continent, you are at 20 or less.

What if we had seeds that used water more efficiently in Africa? What if we had advanced breeding and agronomics in Africa? I don’t see organic practices being able to improve lives in these developing nations.

But I also will not deny someone the choice should they want to farm organic, or pay more for their food because it is organic.

My hope, and it might be a crazy hope, is that we can all work together towards a common solution that allows each nation to choose the best food production for their people, their social climate, their economy and their needs.

When it comes to the global food I have a lot to agree with my future king on. And I hope that which we disagree on will not stand in the way of a better future for our entire planet.

4 Responses to "The Future of Food"

  1. YES! This is an eloquent and well-thought-out response to the unnecessary hysteria over crops produced and improved via biotechnology. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. This is such bunk. Has Monsanto not seen the numerous UN and other reports that only Organic can feed the world sustainably. Also it is shameful to say organic and local costs more. How about we stop the corn and soy subsidies and give them to organic farmers and see what happens? Cheap food is a myth. I happen to know lots of organic farmers that will beat any prices in the grocery store so that’s just an outright lie. Have you seen the studies done on conventional non-gmo corn compared with GMO corn? Conventional does the same or better. I doubt this gets published but I’m glad at least Monsanto is recognizing the food revolution going on and the campaigns to do something about labeling GMO’s.

    Reply
    • Keith,

      Thanks for your thoughts. As you probably guessed, I disagree. When you have limited land, finite resources and a growing population, the need to do more with less is what makes agriculture sustainable.

      Organic and local is great if that’s what you want and can afford (as a simple walk down the grocery aisle reveals that organic and local costs more), as is conventional seed, and in some areas of the world that might be the best option. But there are many studies out there showing lower yields and larger labor and input needs using organic practices that I could lay on the table opposite your studies. With the ever increasing population and the changing consumption habits in developing nations, the need to do more with less is increasing daily.

      As a result, where the climate limits what can be grown, or pest and disease pressures are heavy, biotech is one of the solutions. As are improved agronomic practices, especially better water management.

      There’s room for all options. And we owe it to our kids to look at them all.

      I appreciate your comments. Thank you for discussing.

      Reply

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