Data analysis, biotech are key in agriculture's future sustainability

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 27, 2013- Most countries, including those in the European Union, will accept biotechnology food products by the year 2025, said Accenture Senior Director Rich Kottmeyer during Bayer CropScience's 2013 Ag Issues Forum. 

Bayer's forum, which began on Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, included a futuristic look at agriculture in the year 2025, just 25 years before the world population is expected to reach nine billion and agriculture is required to increase productivity by 70 percent. 

“We've been able to convince consumers that biotechnology is the core of sustainability” by 2025, Kottmeyer said, adding that convincing and educating consumers is more important than convincing regulators.

During the shift of focus from regulator to consumer he predicts, Kottmeyer said it is important to appeal to the emotional sentiments on which the consumer bases decisions. Furthermore, the organic customer is attracted to simpler agriculture, social justice, sustainability and good stewardship, which he says are all things biotechnology can provide. “The approach that they're rejecting has a clear benefit to the very things most important to them,” he said.

The benefits of seed technology will be realized, particularly because of the increased global population in 2050, as well as the prediction that more than half the world population will be in the middle class by that date. He said this huge middle class, particularly in China and India, will create a new consumer. While the European Union currently blocks all U.S. biotechnology products, Kottmeyer is optimistic the consumer will drive a change. 

He noted that data analytics, which allowed him to make his 2025 predictions, show that finding ways to influence consumers is much simpler than normally anticipated. “You just have to crunch the data,” he said.

In fact, the entire agriculture industry is currently moving into a “data-centric” era, said David Nicholson, head of Bayer's Research and Development, during the forum. 

Using the information gained from technology in a way that helps agriculture achieve the required 70 percent increase in productivity is the key to success or failure, he said. Precision agriculture, in particular, is the focus of this data-driven era allowing the farmer to know what to grow and where to grow it for the best results.

“When we think of the farmer of the future we see a grower as CEO,” said David Hollinrake, Bayer's Vice President of Agriculture Commercial Operations Marketing, adding that farming will increasingly become a business investment instead of a lifestyle or family choice. “We want to be able to participate as an enabler of using data as precision tools.”

One of the changes Bayer has made to meet increasing market demand is the “willingness to partner with folks once thought to be the ‘evil competitor,' like Monsanto and Pioneer. “A few years ago that wouldn't have been considered, but not one of us can do it all.”

Nicholson noted that a persisting hurdle for biotechnology, as well as chemistry and biologic products, is the regulatory inconsistency across the globe. The varying approval timelines and requirements for countries highlight a particular challenge to prioritize research and development. “Despite all the beautiful science and all the resources we have available we have to make certain we place our bets on the right products,” he said.

One of the bets Bayer decided to place is on developing biotech wheat. The first Bayer wheat seed will launch in 2015 for nations in the Black Sea area, while the product in the U.S. is expected, but within the next five years or more.

Several research partnerships with universities in the United States, including Texas Tech University, University of Nebraska, North Dakota State University and others, are focused on wheat germplasm with a major priority to increase yields both for genetically modified varieties and non-GM varieties.

According to Kottmeyer, by 2025, seed varieties will be one small part of the mix of technology and science providing solutions for the farmer. “If seed is the potential for what yield may be it is data that ensures that yield is optimized and realized,” he said.

 
 

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