Next 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 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.
April 9, 2010
On Wednesday morning, I sat with my coffee cup in hand and listened via Webcast to our CEO Hugh Grant talk with investors and analysts about Monsanto’s second quarter earnings. At the same time, I had my Tweetdeck and Google Reader up to scan and follow the latest comments from our farmer customers. It was refreshing to hear what our execs said in that call, because it matched what I’ve been seeing online from our customers.
What Monsanto executives said this week—including CEO Hugh Grant—was the result of feedback they picked up from meeting with farmers across the U.S. for the past several months. What we heard consistently from these farmers is that they find value in our products and in our technology. But we also heard that our pricing methods on new products such as Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield and Genuity SmartStax can be an obstacle for customers who want to try new technologies.
This feedback is partly why we reset our financial goals yesterday, acknowledging that the goal of doubling gross profit from 2007 to 2012 was unlikely.
As Mr. Grant told analysts yesterday:
“We refuse to achieve our growth objectives to the detriment of our customers….we can either make a stubborn push for the targets we’ve set for ourselves and strain those valuable customer relationships – or, we can do more to work with our customers and let the growth come more naturally. That will change some things. I’d like to say it’s pure altruism, but the reality is it’s the right thing to do for the business – today and tomorrow.”
Moving forward, we’ll be looking at ways we can provide customers with more options to evaluate the technology and then decide the right combination of products for their farm.
**Please note: The comments section has been shut down temporarily until Monday, April 12 due to some maintenance on the site. If you’d like to leave a comment on this post, please check back on Monday.
March 23, 2010
Note from Mica: With our America’s Farmers Farm Mom of the Year contest in full swing with over 170 submissions so far, I asked my good friend and colleague Tami Craig Schilling to write a guest post for the blog, reflecting on what it means to be a farm mom. Tami is a full-time Monsanto employee, farm wife and mom, community volunteer and mentor for many of her colleagues. She’s one of those women that other moms’ envy (including me), and has us constantly asking, “How does she do it all and make it look so easy?”
At a recent farm show, several farm moms came to the Monsanto booth and commented “that they weren’t deserving of Farm Mom recognition” because they weren’t very involved in the farm. When I heard that I smiled because I know all too well that the little things a farm mom does and shrugs off really do make a difference.
March 17, 2010
Last summer, Scientific American ran an editorial criticizing seed companies for inhibiting independent research of GM (biotech) crops. The editorial was prompted by public comments from university scientists to the EPA, who stated they felt the contractual agreements required for purchasing commercial seed prohibited them from conducting their research.
Not long after the article ran, I read many outraged comments on Twitter and received quite a few inquiries. I was surprised by the backlash because it was my understanding that Monsanto allows independent research with products—and not just research that Monsanto believed would end with positive results. Heck, I’ve had to handle communications on studies where Monsanto didn’t agree with the conclusion. So what’s the deal?
March 2, 2010
Charitable giving is an element of good citizenship. Today, Monsanto was named one of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. It’s a nice recognition for the company, but I chose to focus on the global citizenship of our employees.
On this past Saturday morning, I checked my Facebook account over a cup of coffee and saw a post from a work colleague:
“Thinking of all our Monsanto Chile employees and hoping that everyone is safe.”
That’s how I found out about the earthquake in Chile. And like my co-worker, my thoughts immediately fled to the couple of hundred Monsanto employees we have in the region. Were they okay? Were they accounted for? (We’ve contacted most, but are still trying to get in contact with a few employees.) Next, I thought about Chilean farmers and the ag industry. How was this going to affect them? And finally I thought, how can I help?
February 26, 2010
This week’s ISAAA report is at first glance, not surprising: yes, the “how much?” question is always the lead, and as in other years, the report says more and more farmers around the world are planting biotech crops.*
But more interesting to me, are the answers to the “where?” and “what?” questions. As in, where are farmers planting biotech crops and what are they planting? Reviewing the list, I see countries that I haven’t seen before as well as new products that I haven’t heard of (blue roses anyone?). Here’s some tidbits that caught my eye. Also, I should note that Monsanto is a sponsor of ISAAA. Read the rest of this entry »