A Grain of Hope for Our Future
Small farms are the engine of economic opportunity in many parts of the world and are just as vital to a healthy, stable food supply as are large-scale operations.
If you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet to assume that you’re not too worried about from where your next meal will come. Maybe it will take place at a restaurant with friends and colleagues, or at home with your family. Regardless of where it occurs, most of us have an enduring faith in our food production system to ensure we will be on the right side of the supply and demand curve. And while we carry this faith in the future, we should also recognize that there are many challenges that lie ahead of us.
I recently had the pleasure of participating as a panelist at this year’s Global Grain Asia, the biggest annual meeting in Asia focused solely on the grain trade. Grain crops are the world’s most important food commodity and have been an essential source of nutrition throughout human history. Almost half of the world’s harvested grains are consumed directly by people, and a third are used for animal feed. The rest goes into the manufacture of many different products, ranging from cooking oils to biofuels. Anything that threatens this grain supply could have devastating consequences for our future.
Our panel discussed critical supply and demand issues over the next 12 months, but also gave a glimpse into the long-term challenges confronting our global food system. These include a growing population, a changing climate, shifting consumer preferences, and conflict over limited natural resources between urban centers and rural communities. In the past, the use of intense agricultural inputs helped address our food needs, but looking ahead, a transformative change is required to correct a production system that is out of balance with nature and the nutritional needs of its consumers.
Producing more food while using less land or water resources is easier said than done. At Bayer, our vision is to help shape the future of agriculture by creating tailored solutions that benefit farmers, consumers and our planet. We’re doing this in three ways: by delivering world-class innovation, pioneering farming’s digital transformation and by setting new standards for sustainability. With an annual investment of €2.4 billion in research, Bayer provides a complete portfolio of seeds and traits, crop protection products and digital applications that is unmatched in the agricultural industry.
Grain crops are at the center of the changes taking place in agriculture. Innovations in plant breeding will enable us to develop new grain varieties faster than ever before to quickly adjust to changing pest and climatic conditions. Our work to develop a short stature corn hybrid will reduce the risk of crop loss due to lodging and open the door to even higher yields. And our efforts to promote sustainable farming practices, including the use of reduced-tillage and cover crops, not only improve soil health and conserve water, but also save irrigation and fuel expenses for farmers.
One of the most exciting innovations in grain crops is the use of digital technologies. The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Bayer, is helping the world’s farmers sustainably increase their productivity through the use of digital tools and advanced analytics. Climate FieldViewTM, digital agriculture’s leading farm software platform, helps farmers precisely manage key inputs like seed and fertilizer. For example, FieldView helps farmers understand nitrogen availability in their fields at the zone level and apply nitrogen only where it’s needed. During the growing season, field health images from satellite and drone partners help farmers identify crop stress like drought and pest infestation early, which can lead to more precise actions in the field to address those issues.
The use of these digital tools, new hybrids and crop protection products is also part of the integrated, tailored solutions that equally apply to these areas. Bayer’s food chain partnerships with smallholders are designed to implement best agricultural practices to meet customer requirements for food quality, food safety and traceability. These partnerships support the viability of smaller farm businesses and ensure they have access to both local international markets.
The pursuit of agricultural innovation is vital to preserve our natural resources and protect our future food supply. But even the best tools will be insufficient if we don’t have the support of the public. To restore trust and increase consumer acceptance, we must listen to their concerns and be more open in discussing the technologies we use. Our transparency initiative is all about increasing engagement with consumers. Good things are happening in agriculture to ensure that grains and other crops will continue to be available for the next generation. By working together, we can turn this hope into a reality.