Youth Ag-Summit:
Real People, Real Problems, Real Solutions
Adrian Percy
Adrian Percy
Head of Research and Development for Crop Science

It’s not unusual for those who have worked many years in agriculture to talk about the serious food challenges the world will face in 2050. Although we are certainly sincere in our concern, it’s one thing to anticipate a situation, but quite another to actually experience it. The actions we take today ultimately will affect those of the next generation, which is why I was so happy to participate in the 2017 Youth Ag-Summit in Brussels this week.


Imagine bringing together 100 young adults from 49 countries to talk about agriculture! The Youth Ag-Summit is a week-long event that serves as a forum to discuss opportunities, collaborate and find answers and solutions to the great question of our time: “How do we feed a hungry planet”? This year’s event was held at the heart of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, a perfect place to discuss innovative, sustainable and actionable solutions that will be needed to address our future food security.


When one examines the leadership qualities of those selected to join the summit in Brussels, it’s impossible not to feel optimistic about the future. The sheer breadth of experiences these attendees bring with them is exactly what will be needed to overcome the formidable problems our world is facing: a rising population, increasing food demand, shifting consumption practices, evolving pest pressures, limited farmland, competition for dwindling natural resources, and a changing climate. With such a diverse set of problems, we need a diversity of thought to overcome them. And we need all of the energy that these youthful leaders can muster to tackle these problems head-on.


As discussed during the summit, Bayer is looking beyond the traditional borders of agriculture to unlock the innovations needed for tomorrow. Fortunately, opening yourself to new ideas is nothing new for these young adults. They have grown up in a world of digital connectivity that brought us the largest movie house that owns no theaters (Netflix), the largest taxi business that owns no cabs (Uber) and the largest media company that creates no content (Facebook). Adopting innovations from non-agricultural industries, such as energy, healthcare, information technology and engineering will create opportunities for farmers to produce more food on less land, and to do so more sustainably.


Innovation in agriculture is moving at breathtaking speed, but we can’t get complacent. That’s because it’s the consumer – not the industry – that drives what we do and consumer preferences for gluten-free, high protein diets and convenience products are changing the foods farmers produce. Our ability to harness the creativity coming not only from our in-house research but also from other industries, investors and think-tanks will be the key to finding new ways to meet our changing food needs. During the summit, we reviewed some of the exciting research that is already shaping the future of farming:

  • Digitalization is farming’s new mathematics, reducing decisions from hectares to square meters.
  • Plant breeding innovations will bring new plant varieties to market faster, cheaper and better.
  • Precision farming goes beyond GPS to enhance profitability, efficiency and sustainability.
  • Satellite HD imagery to help farmers improve predictive capabilities across time and space.
  • Robots on the ground have the potential to help monitor, weed and fertilize crops.
  • Drones can efficiently monitor fields (farms may make up 80% of the future drone market).
  • Novel farms (e.g. vertical, aquaculture and insect farming) will use less land to feed more people.
  • Soil health holds the promise of the next step-change in improving yields and sustainability.

All these innovations will mean nothing if we fail to strengthen the bond between those who consume our food and those who produce it. The general public is constantly bombarded with misleading information about modern agriculture and the safety of our food. While more than 90 percent of them think innovation will help grow more food, a majority distrusts the very tools that have helped make agriculture so successful. Those of us familiar with the painstaking steps taken to ensure the safety of our products and practices shouldn’t be surprised when society doesn’t share in our confidence. It’s up to us to foster a closer bond between agriculture and society. Failure to do so is not an option.


In my final remarks at the Youth Ag-Summit, I paraphrased a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Believe in the impossible and remove the improbable.” We must be willing to set aside those questionable barriers that prevent us from achieving great things. Looking around the crowd, I saw real people who were willing to grapple with real problems in order to find real solutions that we need to guarantee the health of our planet. With their dedication and leadership, I’d say the world’s future is in pretty good hands.