“It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture,” says CHS representative Ed Mallet at the 2011South Dakota Governor’s Ag Development Summit, which I attended at the end of June. Mallet was joined during a panel discussion on industrial agriculutre by Monsanto’s Jim Tobin, Alan Ayers with Bayer CropScience, Pioneer’s Bill Even, and Rob Skjonsberg, who spoke on behalf of the South Dakota Ethanol Producers Association. Although industrial agriculture is not always viewed favorably by mainstream media, this panel talked about how biotechnology has been hugely influential in modern agriculture — increasing efficiency, improving ethically sound practices and providing a sustainable food production structure to last through the generations.
“By 2050 we could have 2.6 billion more people in the world to feed, with a growing middle class in Third World countries who want to add high-quality proteins to their plates,” says CHS's Mallet. “Advancements in technology help us to be more efficient in our jobs as food producers.”
“But, to do our jobs, we also need good regulations and policies,” adds Ayers. “We have a new book of agriculture in this era. Biotechnology is part of modern agriculture and sustainable agriculture, too. We truly see science and innovation as a key to sustainability. We have people today who need to eat. We have accurate numbers that predict the people we need to feed, but we don't have a handle on the number of people who are actually hungry. Biotechnology is going to be the next green movement, and feeding a world population is our focus. If any of you have troubles explaining what you do in agriculture, just talk about feeding the world. There truly is not a more noble career.”
“Too often, we talk about the importance of agriculture amongst ourselves, but we are preaching to the choir,” Pioneer's Even says. “We need to get out and share our stories. Our consumers need a better understanding of what happens from the field to the market, and it’s our job to tell that story.”
Yet, big agriculture is regularly criticized as wasteful and destructive to the environment. This is a misconception that Monsanto's Tobin hopes to correct.
“What is sustainability?” Tobin asks. “Being sustainable, to me, means doing more with less and leaving a smaller footprint when we do things. Producers today follow practices that allow them to keep doing what they are doing for generations. We believe in the concept of leaving the land better than we found it.”
Major innovations in modern agriculture have allowed producers to do just that.
“Biotechnology has changed the way we deal with planting, insects, weeds and harvest,” says Bayer CropScience's Ayers. “The real and untapped resources are what biotechnology focuses on, and right now that’s food and nutrition. We can address what people need to have to enjoy a balanced diet through biotechnology. We have to understand that we won’t be going back to what agriculture looked like 100 years ago. Biotechnology has had a hand in increasing profitability and efficiency by $60 billion. Those are benefits in the bank that we simply can’t ignore. Looking at the environmental side of things, we have increased productivity using less land; we are cutting down fewer trees and tearing up fewer pastures. This plays a big role in taking care of the environment.”
Whether it’s discussing no-till farming, precision planting, killing pests and weeds, or feeding a growing planet, biotechnology and industrial agriculture isn’t the enemy, agreed the group. Biotechnology is the solution to a greener, healthier planet, a more robust economy and a more abundant food supply. Now, it’s a simple matter of sharing the field-to-market story with consumers and correcting the negative connotations about “big agriculture” in the mainstream media.
What are your thoughts on modern agriculture and how do we convice the world that modern agriculture is both the economical and sustainable answer to the world's food, fiber and environmental needs?