Since the advent of GMO crops, agriculture across the globe has undergone immense transformation, becoming the productive system in place today. The benefits of GMO crops are clear – corn farmers in developed countries have increased their productivity and yields. Take the U.S. for example, according to the USDA*, corn yields have grown by 35% since the first introduction of GM. The benefits for farmers in developing countries are equally remarkable. Consider India, where cotton yields have increased over 90% since Bt cotton made its mark.
The discovery and introduction of insect resistant crops provided a major breakthrough, furthering the global impact of biotechnology. With these impacts in mind, The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) recognized Sherri Brown, David Fischhoff and Fred Perlak from Monsanto and Mike Koziel (formerly Syngenta) with the first-ever ASPB Innovation Prize for Agricultural Technology, for their transformational leadership in developing insect resistant cotton and corn crops. According to ASPB, these innovations “have had a major impact on crop yields in both developed and developing countries, and they have also had significant environmental benefits by reducing the use of chemical pesticides.”
The award specifically recognizes the work of industry scientists and the movement from discovery research to real-world impacts. “This award is exciting for me because I worked on the project from the early discoveries in the lab to the commercial launches of the product in the U.S. and around the world. People don’t always realize this – but industry jobs are really cool, high caliber and importantly, the work is improving farmers’ lives around the world,” said Brown.
Having worked with farmers in developing countries, Fred Perlak finds the award equally meaningful, “I visited India when we were first introducing Bollgard® cotton and walked a farmer’s field with conventional cotton that had been sprayed several times. It was tall and lush, but there were no cotton bolls. Not one. The farmer was begging us for a solution to his insect problem with tears in his eyes. That same farmer grew Bollgard® the next year – was successful then and has been successful ever since.”
Today, new technologies are being developed and implemented to enhance sustainable improvements in productivity. The digitization of agriculture and the application of data science tools are having more impact than ever before. Software tools to provide growers with advice on key decisions are increasingly common in developed countries, and even farmers in India are now able to use cell phones to get weather forecasts and agronomic advice, helping them determine when to plant, spray and even when commodity prices are best for them to sell.
“My work at The Climate Corporation has transformed the way I look at data. When I think about the impact that insect resistant crops have had across the world, I am excited by the potential I see for data science and for what the future holds for digital agriculture,” said Fischhoff.
Whether it is the impact of insect resistant crops or data science, work in industry is exciting. Industry careers provide the opportunity to work on good, impactful science and science that translates to real-world outcomes.
*Data sources: USDA through 2013/14 for India production, USDA through 2014 for U.S. yield