BASF leadership advanced a new business model during a Global Media event recently that marks a departure from traditional bottom line economics to include the impact decisions have, not on profit alone but also on society and the environment.
“It’s a matter of balance, finding the sweet spot,” said Saori Duborg, member of the Board of Executive Directors at BASF SE.
Duborg, in her address to a diverse group of agricultural journalists gathered at the BASF offices in Durham, N.C., said going forward, BASF will consider the needs of customers (farmers), the environment and society by “using resources the smart way. We are looking at the value for society, the environment and for business.”
A key goal, she added, is for BASF as a company to be carbon dioxide neutral by 2030. “That creates value for society and protects the climate. BASF is committed to contributing to the Paris Climate Agreement,” she added.
Eradicating malaria is another target. The goal, one with widespread industry support, is zero malaria cases by 2040.
BASF President Vincent Gros said the company “is beginning a new chapter, changing the way we do business for the benefit of our customers.”
New digital management tools, Gros said, aid farmers in key decisions.
“We have developed digital tools to help farmers understand the impact of their decisions on sustainability. Farmers can look at simulations to say, okay, if I do that, what's the impact on the sustainability of my farm?
“Sustainability is not something new for BASF,” Gros said in a follow-up interview. “It has always been very, very close to my heart. The problem is that we have a general definition of sustainability, but the way to measure it is an issue. We don't yet have a consensus.”
Darren Armstrong, a North Carolina farmer and a member of a grower panel, agreed that sustainability is difficult to define. The definition of sustainability may differ from one segment to another, he said. “I’m afraid we are losing the battle, so farmers need to define sustainability, and the industry needs to define it and we need to come together and define it in a scientific way.”
Paul Rea, senior vice president of Agricultural Solutions – North America, said a commitment to sustainability, collaboration and identifying talent play crucial roles in the BASF culture.
“We have a strong commitment to customers during a time of tightening farm economics,” he said. “We want to help them maximize their return on investments. BASF has a customer focus and a stronger footprint in agriculture.”
During a later interview, Rea said collaboration with John Deere Finance offers BASF the opportunity to aid producers in evaluating capital requirements and financing options.
“This collaboration is part of being that solution provider, having the ability to understand what is limiting productivity. And sometimes it can be making the right product choice at the right time, maybe when capital's tight. That's why we work with John Deere Finance, to help farmers make decisions when they're planning the crop and securing a product at the proper time to plan better.”
“We need to be a partner, not just a supplier,” added Rick Turner, senior vice president, Seeds and Traits.
Duborg said transparency will be a key for BASF. “We want a new way of accounting,” she said. “We want to consider the impact a decision has on society.”
She said salary is an important consideration, but so are the social values of the company and the environmental footprint.
The impact of robotics on society may not be all positive, she said. “Robots don’t go shopping. We need to show the value [of decisions] to the environment and to society. Minimizing the environmental impact is important to the way we think and the way we lead.”
Rea said BASF is committed to finding and training new talent. “I think we have to be committed to growing it locally,” he said.
“I think we need to be there at those key moments of truth for students as they find their way through the schooling system and at intersection points where they can go left or right in terms of whether or not they pursue a career in agriculture.”
He said involvement in programs such as FFA and TeachAg offers opportunities to identify talented young men and women who could be future leaders in BASF.
“We want to start thinking broader [than just production agriculture] and consider engineers and data scientists and molecular breeders and marketers and accountants. There is a career for everyone in agriculture.”
Rea said agriculture faces significant problems, including low commodity prices. “The economic situation at the moment is a challenge and I think it's hard for farmers to be entering their sixth year of lower commodity prices, and with a trade dispute intensifying those challenges. “That’s the fundamental challenge the industry faces, and it's going to be harder and harder for growers to keep investing if returns remain low.”
Turner, also in a follow-up interview, said anticipating market needs is a crucial factor for an industry leader. “I've been fortunate to be in organizations that have been market leaders,” Turner said. “And the thing about a leader is you can’t stand and watch for others to tell you what to do. You have to anticipate and develop.”
That’s where the balance comes in, BASF leaders said. Leaders anticipate the impact actions will have on society, the environment and profitability. They also must anticipate the needs of farmers and consumers well into the future. And they have to be on the lookout for the next generation of scientists, managers and even communicators to move the company forward.
From the featured BASF leadership, to the grower panel and through afternoon breakout sessions (pollinators and butterflies, more efficient products and varieties and new traits), speakers delivered a message of transparency, honest dialog, and collaboration.
Duborg summed up the BASF commitment in her concluding remarks noting that a key mission is: “Finding the right balance for success for farmers, for agriculture and for future generations.”