Farm Progress

Commentary: Two ag leaders will improve innovation in agriculture for the benefit of producers.

March 1, 2018

3 Min Read
MERGER MEANING: The proposed merger of Bayer and Monsanto is good for agriculture, farmers and Missouri, according to Jerry Duff, founder of AgriThority, a global agricultural science consultancy.fotokostic/iStock/Thinkstock

By Jerry Duff

While feeding the growing population of our world is a favorite talking point, the real challenge lies with the food, feed and fiber producers who must continually improve productivity while making a profit to stay in business. Yes, food production is a business and must not only be sustainable, but also healthy.

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Duff

Experts say we must increase agricultural productivity by 60% to feed the expected growth in population, from 7 billion now to 10 billion people by 2050. During that time, the amount of farmland per capita is expected to decrease by 17%. The task seems even more complex as these “experts” also predict farm yields decreasing by 17% over the same 32-year period.

History doesn’t support this theory. Applied scientific research and development has been improving the productivity of our lands for decades. Consider these facts: The National Corn Growers Association announced that a record five national yield contest entries surpassed 400 bushels per acre in 2016. The national average for all corn produced in the U.S. was 174.6 bushels per acre. Compare this to the producers submitting top yield contest entries with 240 bushels per acre 10 years earlier, in 2006. The national corn yield average was 151.2 bushels per acre that year. 

Innovative production practices have long been the key to growers achieving ever-higher yields. The improved seed varieties and production techniques come from a growing number of scientific sources, which are facilitated by advanced data analyses and management systems. These all require in-field trials and integration by early adopters in the farming communities, who then lead the industry toward higher production averages overall.

This may sound simple, but the complexities of agricultural production vary from year to year, much like the weather. The ever-changing environment is just part of the equation every farmer considers each season as innovations are integrated for improved productivity, efficiency and, ultimately, profit.

Need for R&D
Continual improvement requires continual research and development. Leaders in innovation are supported by thousands of individual scientists who work independently, in the academic university research system, within startup technology companies, and within commercial companies all around the world.

Several of the top production agriculture companies have evolved recently through new ownership and mergers or acquisitions. I believe this strengthens the industry. An example is the proposed acquisition of America’s Monsanto by Germany-based Bayer. The two companies already are leaders in agricultural research and innovation, with hundreds of products that have revolutionized agriculture over recent decades. Monsanto has a 115-year history as an innovator, and 150-year-old Bayer has delivered high value all over the world, as well as to American farmers.

They plan for their combined R&D portfolio — an astounding $2.9 billion annual endeavor — to have exceptional depth and reach, with enormous commercial potential. Between them, the merged companies have 10,000 research and development professionals working around the globe at more than 40 R&D facilities, and at 200 breeding stations devoted to improving not only crop yields but also the health of farm animals. Overall, Bayer employs almost 117,000 workers worldwide, including 12,000 in the U.S., while Monsanto has a staff of about 20,000.

Now, farmers around the world need greater integration of data and technology, as well as products, into farm management. Both Bayer and Monsanto have strong digital farming product development efforts that promise to pay off for U.S. farmers and consumers in the short, medium, and long terms.

Good for Missouri
When the two companies combine — an event targeted for 2018 — the Seeds and Traits operation will continue in St. Louis. More importantly for the state of Missouri, Bayer reportedly will be moving its North America headquarters to St Louis while keeping key facilities in Durham, N.C., as well as several other locations across the U.S.

The combined talents and energies of Bayer and Monsanto, along with the thousands of scientists, will continue to give American farmers the tools they need to remain increasingly productive and profitable, with a collective intention of helping to feed the world.

Duff is the founder of AgriThority, a global agricultural science consultancy, where he is an agronomist, business and marketing specialist.

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