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.
March 31, 2010
Co-authored by Janice Person and Nick Weber
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.”
March 5, 2010
The patent for the original Roundup Ready (RR1) soybean trait is set to expire in 2014. That fact has raised all kinds of interest and questions, starting first with what it means for farmers.
Late last year, Monsanto worked to explain our intentions. Lately, several groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, have asked about the regulatory issues involved, because the scientific and export regulatory “estate” for a genetically modified trait like this one has to be maintained. If the estate is not maintained, farmers won’t be able to use the trait. We said last fall that we’d continue to maintain the “estate” for RR1 for at least three years after the patent expired.
Recently, we sought industry leadership to develop a comprehensive process for patent expirations for technologies like RR1 (there are a number of them going off patent after ours does in 2014). Early in February, the Food & Agriculture section of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), a trade association, agreed to take this on. We presented a draft concept on how we thought this could be achieved, involving both how to maintain the regulatory estate for technologies post-patent and guidelines for adding or “stacking” new traits to ones whose patents have expired.
But it’s still very early in the process. We think it’s a great idea to involve both farmers and government in this process at BIO, for two reasons. They both have a critical stake in the outcome, and their perspective and involvement is vital to achieving a comprehensive and balanced solution.
February 15, 2010
In 2009 there was a lot of buzz around trans-fat free foods when places like New York City passed regulations that pushed the use of healthier oils. It may be hard to imagine, but that decision affected farmers like John Buck, who farms in Ohio in the small town of New Bloomington. Although trans-fat foods may be the rage in big cities, it is on farms that the healthier products start.
January 12, 2010
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.
January 4, 2010
I’ve visited a handful of row-crop farms, talked with dozens of farmers, stood on top of a lock and dam and been to a few farm shows during my short career in agriculture. There’s a lot I still need to do, but I was able to check “visit a grain elevator” off my list.
After visiting a farm, the elevator probably is the next place one should visit to learn about agriculture. In most ag communities, the elevator is the first stop for grain after harvest. The elevator is sort of like the final accounting of what took place in the field. Usually, the farmer has a pretty good idea of his haul and the moisture content of his crop after harvest. The elevator provides the final answer—and the final dollar amount that the farmer will receive for the crop.
During my visit to the Farmer Coop Elevator in St. Peters, Mo., manager Dan Zerr walked me through te process of a farmer delivering grain. I’ve always seen the elevators from a distance driving on Interstate 70 to Kansas City or Interstate 55 to Chicago. Many look impressive against the backdrop of corn, soybean and wheat fields. The Farmers Coop Elevator is a small elevator (180,000 bushel capacity) compared with newer ones, but that doesn’t change how impressive it is when you get an up-close look. I hope you’ll find the accompanying photo essay captures the process of a farmer delivering grain and how an elevator works.
Background on Farmers Coop Elevator:
The Farmers Coop Elevator was founded in 1916. It’s located in St. Peters, Mo, a suburban community approximately 25 miles west of downtown St. Louis. The coop is on the north side of I-70 in the Mississippi River bottom, where most of the farms that the coop serves are located. On the south side of I-70, subdivisions dominate the land. The coop serves most of east central St. Charles County, from St. Peters in the east to the west side of O’Fallon, Mo. It even pulls in a few farmers from the county to the north, Lincoln County.