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 www.producemoreconservemore.com.

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.

By Raegan Johnson

Tonya Ball stops from her busy schedule for a photo on her tractor.

They’re there from sun up to sun down, operating machinery, cleaning equipment—whatever needs to be done. Tonya Ball, said they work just as hard—if not harder—than most of the boys. They are female farmers, and their role in agriculture is more significant than some may think.

FAO estimates that women produce between 60 to 80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.

Ball’s husband introduced her to farming seven years ago. In Plainview, Texas, her family grows corn, wheat, milo and cotton.

“I do all of the financial work,” Ball said. “I drive the tractor. I help water. I help plant. I help with harvest. I do everything.”

Ball said women are underestimated in farming.

“People think a woman can’t get the job done, but actually we do it more efficiently,” she said.  “We tear up less equipment, and there are a lot of [male] farmers now that say so. They are hiring more women because we’re alert and pay more attention to detail.”

Ball said during harvest she is up at 8 a.m., helping to prepare the equipment—greasing and cleaning—and out harvesting sometimes until midnight.

“On just a regular farming day, I handle all of the financial things first thing in the morning,” she said. “The bills, banking, getting reports ready for loans, and making sure we can pay out—I take care of all of that. And by mid-morning, I’m on the tractor and I’m there until about 6 or 7 p.m.”

Just like Ball, Cindy Cunningham of Kempton, Indiana, said when the guys are in the field, she is in the field.

“My father was a farmer, and I married a farmer,” Cunningham said.  “My dad raised hogs, and we would help him with feed and stuff, but a lot of my experience came through 4-H. I used to show cattle.”

Cunningham said she currently doesn’t do any tillage work, but in the spring she hauls anhydrous (ammonia) tanks, chemicals, water, and seed during planting. She said she also keeps the tractors going. And in the fall, she runs the grain cart. She is also responsible for finances and keeping the books.

“I enjoy helping my husband with farming,” Cunningham said. “The hours aren’t always the same, and the tasks aren’t always the same. I like the variety.”

And even with the long days and the hard work, both women say they prefer farming over any 9-to-5 job.

“I think it’s great if a woman has an opportunity to be at home, and help their husbands in their farming business,” Cunningham said.

“The reason I do this is because I enjoy it,” Ball said. “It’s challenging, and it gives me some family time I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t involved in farming.

Raegan has worked on Monsanto’s internal communications team for the past two years. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Saint Louis University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is currently pursuing a PhD in public policy. In her free time, she loves to volunteer with children.

Co-authored by Janice Person and Nick Weber

Cotton emerging from the soil

The unofficial start of planting season got under way today, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its 2010 Prospective Plantings report. It’s an annual report that the agency issues each March 31 as its best estimates on what farmers may plant for corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and many other crops.

The quick highlights:

  • A record 78.1 million acres of soybeans
  • 88.8 million acres of corn (second-highest on record)
  • 53.8 million acres of wheat (lowest since 1970)
  • 10.5 million acres of cotton (15 percent higher than 2009)

According to Kansas farmer Darin Grimm, the Plantings report is one of the couple big reports that he follows.

“I pay a fair amount of attention,” said Grimm. “It moves the market. We look to see what affect it will have on prices, so we pay a fair amount of attention. In this case, the numbers are about as expected.”

Illinois farmer Doug Martin said the report gets the year going for farmers.

“I have always had my doubts about the USDA reports because I have always wondered about their accuracy,” he said. “However, it does set a benchmark for the year. I was able to attend the March report a few years ago in (Washington) D.C., and I think that they do their best to get an accurate number.”

The report isn’t swaying Grimm and Martin to change acreage intentions, as they expect their corn and soybean acreage mix to remain the same. The past couple days’ weather has kicked things into high gear on the Grimm farm. After a wet fall and snowy winter, the 70-degree days are just what the Midwest and South needed. Grimm said fall fieldwork has been pushed back to this spring.

“In my area, typically, we will have all our anhydrous (fertilizer) on corn acres in the fall and also do fall herbicide spraying,” he said. “Once we have those operations done, we’re committed to planting corn on those acres.”

That means the Kansas farmers could switch some acres to soybeans, which is why the report is an estimate.

“Right now, there’s a fair amount of nitrogen that needs to go on corn acres, which is unusual for us. It was so wet all fall and winter that we simply didn’t get it down. So if it stays wet, those acres can go to beans more easily.”

Down south, planting is underway from South Texas to South Carolina.  Texas was singled out as the state with the greatest move to cotton, accounting for an extra 600,000 acres of the 10.5 million forecast for 2010. The increase in cotton acres was something farmers have been discussing and optimistic about for months, according to Barry Evans who farms in Kress, Texas on the High Plains.

“Here north of Lubbock we’re cotton & grain so we can move easily how much we plant of cotton, corn and sorghum. I’ll be planting more cotton and expect that as you move north toward Amarillo there will be a greater movement into cotton,” Evans said. The winter provided good moisture on the High Plains and good weather now has lots of people doing field work. He adds that he looks forward to seeing more producers next week at the Plains Cotton Growers annual meeting.

In South Carolina, Thad Wimberly has been busy planting corn in a strip tillage system.  Early spring rains have delayed him a bit but this week has been productive.  “As far as out look we will take 200 acres out of corn and put in more cotton.”

This increase in cotton acres is something most states expect this spring according to the USDA, estimating that only Kansas, Louisiana and Arkansas will see drops.

There’s one common theme among all farmers on March 31 though: excitement for planting.

“We are really excited,” Martin said. “After the last two wet springs. we would like to ‘enjoy’ this planting season. Although with all of last fall’s work still left to do, it will probably be chaotic, unless it quits raining until the middle of May. We are hoping to get some field work started by the weekend, and if we miss Saturday’s rain we will be ready to go full steam ahead.”

“It’s always exciting,” Grimm said. “It’s easy to be optimistic in the spring.”

Cotton farmers in Africa inspect their crop. In Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, biotech cotton increased from 8,500 hectares to 115,000 hectares.

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 »

Corn being harvested during the 2009 season.

Big notes of “Thanks” and “Congrats” are in order for U.S. farmers.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its “Crop Production 2009 Summary.” This report highlights the USDA’s best estimates of what farmers produced during the 2009 crop year across several crops, including Monsanto’s core crops of corn, soybeans and cotton. I’ve pulled out the top 10 production states by crop and highlighted their crop stats below.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s hard to explain the Beltwide Cotton Conferences.  I know because I’ve tried for years.  And the recent post to the company blog provided some insight on my personal connection to the event for almost 20 years! But I’ve gotten a few questions sent to me through email, tweets and Facebook posts so I want to take a few minutes on this wireless-free flight (yes, that bummed me out) and capture a few things while I’m high above what could be New Mexico, on my way to American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting.

What makes Beltwide different from the other trade shows?  Well, while that’s the question I usually get, I point out the name doesn’t include “tradeshow”!  There is a trade show, but wow, there’s much more!  Let’s start with the deconstruction of the name:

Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, we moved a step closer. Actually, 11 steps closer.

Every January, in conjunction with the first quarter financial results, Monsanto gives an update on the research and development status of our breeding and biotech traits. The update provides a look at projects that have advanced and new projects that have been added to the pipeline.  A total of 11 trait products moved forward in this year’s update, a new record for the company and good news for farmers who we believe can benefit from many of these innovations. Of those projects, five were completely new.

Based on conversations  had throughout the day, here are some of the areas that garnered the most attention and questions.

Read the rest of this entry »