Today’s Tools for Tomorrow’s FoodCan you imagine starting a major household project with only one tool to rely upon? While swinging a hammer may provide some much-needed therapeutic relief after a long week at the office, it can only take you so far toward achieving your ultimate goal. That’s why most of us keep a toolbox full of useful implements to handle the minor repairs which pop up from time to time around the house. In much the same way, farmers need a diverse set of tools to help produce the food that nourishes us all.
Some people have a highly romanticized vision of farming, where all one needs to do is plant a seed, add a little water, and voila – in no time you’re enjoying a succulent ear of corn on a sunny afternoon. But anyone who’s ever produced a backyard garden knows better. Understanding the seed quality, soil composition, and nutrient requirements are just the first steps in preparing for success. Garden plants must contend with many nascent weeds, which compete for sunlight and nutrients, as well as insects and diseases, which naturally enjoy eating our food as much as we do.
Magnify the complexity of a backyard garden by hundreds or thousands of acres and it becomes clearer to see what a farmer faces every day. When growing plants is a livelihood (and not a pastime) the margin for error is small and seeking simple solutions to complex problems can be a recipe for disaster. And that is why successful growers have adopted an integrated approach to farm management.
Growers need options in their management toolbox so they can meet the ever-shifting challenges that come with farming. Generations ago, farmers had little choice but to rely on a limited set of tools, the broad use of which created unintended problems associated with pest resistance or the rise of new pests, for which few treatments were available. Similarly, seed varieties developed for one locale had only limited value elsewhere and could not be forcefully fit into other geographies.
Since no two farms are alike, a “one-size-fits-all” management strategy can have serious consequences, especially in a rapidly-growing world population that is dependent on agriculture’s success. Even within a single farm there may be differences in soil, vegetation and terrain – creating unique microenvironments – which if not addressed can mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and a mediocre one. These microenvironments can play host to a shifting pattern of insect, weed or disease populations. Managing one of these without considering its impact on another can be shortsighted and potentially disastrous.
Today’s integrated agricultural solutions are designed to deal with a diverse and dynamic environment. It begins with the selection of high-quality seed varieties, containing the best genetics for optimum germination and growth in specific locales. Prescription seed treatments, containing biological and/or traditional protective coatings help to ensure vulnerable seedlings get a healthy start in the face of early season pests. As the crops mature, they can be protected using a range of options to match individual grower needs and preferences. Selective treatments, involving biological or synthetic applications to soil or foliage provide maximum flexibility and targeted pest control.
is the Global Head of Research and Development for Crop Science, a Division of Bayer.
Integrated solutions do not come from isolated research, nor are they always in response to an existing problem. Instead, they come from listening to growers so that we can anticipate future needs. Bayer’s Crop Science Division has been implementing an integrated R&D approach for the past 5 years. Our research teams are located across the world and while each is focused on their area of expertise, they all work together to deliver a comprehensive package of technologies to meet the needs of individual growers, regardless of crop or geographic location.
Instead of having to rely on a single, broad-brush management approach, today’s farmers have more options than at any time in human history. While North American growers can choose genetically engineered canola and European farmers can select conventional oilseed rape varieties, both can protect their crop using biological or chemical methods, either singularly or in combination. Advances in digital farming are allowing growers to get a closer look at their fields from high in the sky and new data analytics are enabling them to “see” information that the human eye cannot.
The use of new integrated technologies that work in concert with our natural environment, coupled with real-time diagnostic information, is changing the way we grow and protect our food. It’s nice to know that these tools are bringing clarity to a complex and ever-changing world, while helping to ensure that the limited land we devote to agriculture will be there for the next generation.
Having a diverse set of tools is essential when addressing any complex project. When it comes to modern agriculture, it’s good to know that we have more than a hammer at our disposal.