SD Governor’s Ag Summit: Biotechnology advancements key to sustainable agriculture
July 8, 2011
“It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture,” said CHS representative Ed Mallet at the 2011 South Dakota Governor’s Ag Development Summit on June 29, 2011. Mallet was joined by Monsanto’s Jim Tobin, Alan Ayers with Bayer CropScience, Pioneer’s Bill Even, and Rob Skjonsberg, speaking on behalf of the South Dakota Ethanol Producers Association, during a panel discussion on industrial agriculture.
Although not always viewed favorably by mainstream media, panelists discussed how biotechnology influenced in modern agriculture – increasing efficiency, improving ethically sound practices and providing a sustainable food production structure to last through the generations.
“By 2050 we could have 2.6 billion more people in the world to feed, with a growing middle class in third-world countries that are wanting to add high-quality proteins to their plates,” Mallet said. “Advancements in technology help us to be more efficient in our jobs as food producers.”
“But, to do our jobs, we also need good regulations and policies,” chimed in Ayers. “We have a new book of agriculture in this era. Biotechnology is part of modern agriculture and sustainable agriculture, too. We truly see science and innovation as a key to sustainability. We have people today who need to eat. We had numbers that predicted the people we need to feed, which are accurate, but we still haven’t gotten a handle on the number of people who are hungry. Biotechnology is going to be the next green movement, and feeding a world population is our focus. If any of you have troubles explaining what you do in agriculture, just talk about feeding the world. There truly is not a more noble of a career. Of course, it all starts with seed, dating way back to the Garden of Eden. It’s all about what we plant and how we do it.”
Agreeing with the importance of being sustainable and efficient to feed a growing world, Even focused on the concept of pasture-to-plate.
“Too often, we talk about the importance of agriculture amongst ourselves, but we are preaching to the choir,” Even said. “We need to get out and share our stories. Our consumers need a better understanding of what happens from the field to the market, and it’s our job to tell that story.”
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Yet, big agriculture is regularly criticized as wasteful and destructive to the environment. This is a misconception Tobin hopes to correct.
“What is sustainability?” Tobin asked. “Being sustainable, to me, means doing more with less and leaving a smaller footprint when we do things. Producers today follow practices that allow them to keep doing what they are doing for generations. We believe in the concept of leaving the land better than we found it.”
Major innovations in modern agriculture have allowed producers to do just that.
“Biotechnology has changed the way we deal with planting, insects, weeds and harvest,” added Ayers. “The real and untapped resources is what biotechnology focuses on, and right now that’s food and nutrition. We can address what people need to have to enjoy a balanced diet through biotechnology. We have to understand that we won’t be going back to what agriculture looked like 100 years ago. Biotechnology has had a hand in increasing profitability and efficiency by $60 billion. That’s benefits in the bank that we simply can’t ignore. Looking at the environmental side of things, we have increased productivity using less land; we are cutting down fewer trees and tearing up fewer pastures. This plays a big role in taking care of the environment.”
“As we move forward, the next focus will be how to better utilize corn stalks,” noted Tobin. “With a record corn crop coming in, what will we do with these stalks, and how can we use them best?”
Whether it’s discussing no-till farming, precision planting, killing pests and weeds, or feeding a growing planet, biotechnology and industrial agriculture isn’t the enemy, panelists agreed. Biotechnology is the solution to a greener, healthier planet, a more robust economy and a more abundant food supply. Now, it’s a simple matter of sharing the field-to-market story with consumers and correcting negative connotations about “big agriculture” in the mainstream media.