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.

Monsanto’s Contribution

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.:

To see what these numbers look like in other countries (and how farmers are making progress), check out our nifty global map on

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.

Planting takes specialized equipment on a small scale for research and development efforts.

Friday afternoon I was trying to reach a coworker.  I looked on the office instant messaging system and a rush came over me – there was an out of office message saying he was planting just outside of Corpus Christi, Texas. Immediate reaction? Pick up the phone and call to see how it’s going!

It’s a high tech version of what has happened for generations. It used to be conversations at the general store or maybe the church social.  It passed from neighbor to neighbor and town to town.  Now, the news gets out quickly & electronically – and for those of us on or connected to the farm, hearing it creates a rush of excitement.  Optimism strikes.

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Leland Uden poses with his daughter on his farm.

After washing his combine after harvest, Nebraska farmer Leland Uden takes time to pose for a picture with his daughter. Cleaning the combine is just one of the many chores Uden and many other farmers have to knock out during the fall and winter months.

During the cold days of February, Nebraska farmer Leland Uden sometimes recalls a joke he’s heard from his non-farming friends:

“I wish I could be a school teacher in the summer and a farmer in the winter.”

Uden’s winter to-do list proves at least the farmer part of that joke isn’t true. A farmer’s job doesn’t stop at harvest. Here’s what Uden has been up to since his crop was harvested in November:

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Mike Williams in another Monsanto employee who works to support customers like Dave Morris. Dave is a farmer/dealer in southeastern Minnesota, and his operations are supported by a network of Monsanto people.

Mike sits in an office building in suburban St. Louis, about 350 miles from the Morris farm. But what he does, often daily, is critical.
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Fashion Tips from Beltwide

January 6, 2010

By Jillian

Cross posted from Beyond the Shows

I never imagined that I would learn about fashion at the Beltwide Cotton Conference. Don’t get me wrong, I KNOW where my clothes come from and what they are made of, but Cotton Inc. has surprised me again.

If you are anything like me, you have seen the colorful t-shirts with the Cotton logo on the back. Everyone seems to have one. This morning, during the Cotton Production Conference at Beltwide, I learned more about Cotton Inc. whose logo is emblazoned on the back of each shirt and what they have done this past year. They are WAY more involved in the fashion world than I ever imagined.

cotton logo
Cotton Inc.

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Mr. Ray on his farm in Wisner, Louisiana.

I know the question itself sounds overly dramatic.  I didn’t use that title for emphasis either.  I’ve been to the Beltwide Cotton Conference every year for two decades now.  It’s a conference that can test physical and mental strength.  After all these years, I still remember my first Beltwide.

I was in graduate school working for an agricultural publications company and it was my first big professional conference.  Everyone else in the office had been before and seemed to know a lot of the names and faces.  I, on the other hand, was the person who had to record every phone call so I could refer to the dictionary and ask co-workers questions later.  (I can still remember listening to a farmer tell a story about impregnating  before [the farmer] put them in the spreader… The vocabulary seemed familiar but there was no way I knew what they meant!  How could that have to do with combining weed control and fertilizer into a single trip across the field?)

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We received a nice end-of-year recognition last week when Forbes Magazine announced Monsanto as its “Company of the Year” in the January 18, 2010 issue. The issue hits newsstands this week and features Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant on the cover. This honor came on the heels of Harvard Business Review’s recognition of Grant in late December as one of the world’s best performing CEOs.

According to Forbes, Monsanto earned the company of the year designation for creating “many billions of dollars of value for the world with seeds genetically engineered to ward off insects or make a crop immune to herbicides: Witness the vast numbers of farmers who prefer its seeds to competing products, and the resulting $44 billion market value of the company.”

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