“Farmers are the most adaptable people on this planet,” Kassi Tom-Rowland, member of Tom Farms, told me in a recent conversation, and I couldn’t agree with her more.
Kassi’s grandfather Everett Tom started their family farm in Leesburg, Indiana with 100 acres. He had chickens, cows and pigs and farmed to feed his five children. Kassi said that she credits her dad, Ambassador Kip Tom, with bringing a spirit of innovation to the farm. It began with putting up an irrigation system and evolved into a willingness to try out and adopt innovations that would enable the farm to increase productivity using fewer natural resources.
With that same unfaltering spirit of innovation, American growers continue to lead the way in feeding the world sustainably. Recent years have tested the resiliency of farmers with trade wars, catastrophic floods, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, but farmers are #StillFarming.
COVID-19 has exposed cracks in our global food system and made it clear that disruptions in food supply chains don’t recognize borders. According to a new FAO report, the pandemic could add between 83 million and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world this year. We are far from achieving zero hunger. It is estimated that if recent trends continue, more than 840 million people across the world will still be haunted by hunger in 2030. As the top food exporter, the US plays a critical role in global food security. We must use this opportunity to build back better food systems that are stronger, more sustainable, more inclusive and more productive for all stakeholders along the food chain, from farmer to consumer.
But what makes a resilient food system? From conversations with partners and customers over the past months, including a recent Chicago Council panel discussion, three essential components stand out:
- Access to Innovation for All Farmers:
The latest advances in innovation from predictive analytics to gene editing are exciting tools for the future of farming. For example, thanks to modern breeding technologies, the development of short stature corn is now possible, which could capture more sunlight, better optimize use of key nutrients like nitrogen, and withstand wind damage.
But the question that lingers in my mind is: Will we be able to deliver critical innovations to all growers? We know that farmers across the world are eager to incorporate new technologies, but the freedom to access innovation is uneven. More than two decades ago, the U.S. and Brazil adopted Bt maize, to control pests, but in many countries genetically modified crops have not yet been approved by policy makers. Every year fall armyworm destroys up to 17.7 million tons of maize in Africa alone. That’s enough maize to feed tens of millions of people.
All farmers need access to technology to manage productive, profitable and sustainable operations and to support a resilient food system. At Bayer, we are investing about $2.5 billion annually in R&D to find tailored solutions that meet the unique needs of farmers. We urge policy-makers around the world to ensure a predictable, science-based regulatory system across the food chain, so that farmers can have access to the innovation they need.
- Digital Transformation Across the Food Chain:
Perhaps one of the most important innovations shaping agriculture is data science. Digital tools empower farmers to make data-driven decisions in their fields. With a new Crop Protection Scripting feature in Climate FieldView, farmers can create targeted, variable rate scripts for herbicide, insecticide, fungicide and plant growth regulators and target pesticide usage only where and when they need it instead of broadly spraying their fields.
In the developing world as well, access to mobile phones can open up a full set of tools that can be used for every aspect of farming from purchases to agronomic advice to confirming that products are not counterfeit.
- Prioritizing and Rewarding Sustainability
Growers know better than anyone the impact of changing weather conditions and the importance of looking after their land. It’s time farmers are adequately compensated for the essential role they play in sustainability measures, such as keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. Establishing a fair price for carbon and enabling incentives for farmers could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide farmers with a viable second revenue stream.
Bayer has been working for several years with external partners on our soil carbon accounting methodology. Now that we have the scientific basis established, it is time to move into practice, help redefine the value of farming and incentivize sustainability. To this end we are pioneering the development of a carbon market in agriculture. Beginning this month, we will reward farmers in the U.S. and Brazil for generating carbon credits by adopting climate-smart practices. We are excited about the potential grower and societal benefits with this approach, and we are committed to driving innovation forward in this space together with growers and partners.
Global environment, health and nutrition challenges are complex and closely interconnected, and farmers must have a seat at the table in conversations about the future of innovation in agriculture. Across the industry we must encourage open dialogue and elevate farmer voices and stories to build the trust and understanding with consumers that underpins a resilient global food system.
After all, U.S. farmers are leading the way in meeting the global challenge of feeding the world without starving the planet. We are proud to serve them and contribute to a more resilient food system through innovation, digital tools and sustainable practices.
About the author: Liam Condon is a member of the Board of Management for Bayer AG and President of the Crop Science Division.
Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.