By Adam Blight, Monsanto Australia & New Zealand
On assuming the leadership of the Australian Government recently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed that this is the most exciting time to be alive in this country. His comment was notable for its optimism – a sentiment usually in short supply in the heat of national political debates. So what was the Prime Minister’s justification for such an optimistic claim? In a word: innovation.
The Prime Minister believes that we cannot future-proof ourselves and that the disruptions transforming the global economy can be our ‘friend’ if we are agile, innovative and creative.
Optimism grounded in the belief that innovation is essential to improving the quality of people’s lives and their environment is certainly not lost on my 22,000 colleagues at Monsanto. Innovation and collaboration lie at the heart of what we do the world over to improve farmer productivity and sustainability.
The government’s renewed focus on innovation is timely as the Australian agriculture sector gears up to feed the rapidly growing middle class in our vibrant Asia-Pacific neighbourhood. Sustainably increasing agricultural production fast enough to capitalise on this opportunity for Australian farmers is the challenge we face.
The good news is local farmers have a great track record when it comes to trying new approaches to improve their productivity. Next year marks 20 years since GM cotton was first grown in Australia. So it is timely that we reflect on just how far the cotton industry has come thanks to its adoption of new technology and management practices reinforced by an impressive culture that embraces cross-sector partnerships.
Local cotton farmers have embraced GM technology that, along with other innovations, has allowed them to produce yields triple the global average. GM technology has also allowed growers to reduce their pesticide use by 95% which is significant when you consider almost all of the cotton grown in Australia are GM varieties.
This enviable record has not only served the cotton farmers well in the past, it has provided the industry with crucial experience in managing the complexities of change which will serve the industry well as it seeks to remain competitive for years to come. And remaining globally competitive will only become harder when you consider the accelerating pace of change and transformation in the global economy.
Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than in the rapid technological adoption of information technology. It took the introduction of the radio 38 years to reach fifty million users, television 13 years and the internet three years. It took Twitter just nine months.
However, nowhere is the rapid adoption of innovation more welcome than agriculture given the crucial role that farmers play in society. Getting sophisticated new technology such as data analytics and science, for example, into the hands of farmers is a priority if we are to help them improve their productivity.
Innovation and collaboration have underpinned Australia’s position as a world leader in sustainable cotton production. The industry’s transformation is a compelling case study in how disruptive technologies can be harnessed to deliver better outcomes for farmers, communities and the environment.
Although perhaps the most important impact of innovation is that it provides us with a sense of possibility and the creativity to overcome daunting challenges such as boosting agricultural production to meet the demands of a rapidly growing global population.