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Ag Companies Love Consumers (And Farmers, Too)

The big ag companies believe more than ever that their business depends on delivering to consumers and farmers.

“Take it to the farmer.” Those words were spoken by Norman Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution” and the namesake behind the World Food Prize, held this week in Des Moines.

Borlaug’s quote might be changing these days, based upon the words of two of the leading companies in agriculture, Bayer (after acquiring Monsanto) and Corteva Agriscience.

These agriculture companies are broadening their missions. They see a world with a growing food demand, a growing attention on food security, and – at least in America – a growing attention on how food is raised and produced.

Some examples, as quoted on the stage in downtown Des Moines:

  • Jim Collins, the chief operating officer for Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of Dow DuPont, was instrumental in shaping the new company, which will spin off into its own entity in June 2019. Collins says the focus on the consumer is in Corteva's core mission: “Putting the farmer and the consumer at the heart of everything we do.”
  • The consumer also is on top of mind for Bayer. According to Liam Condon,  president of Bayer Crop Science: “We want to shape agriculture for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and the environment.”
  • Robb Fraley, the former chief technology officer for Monsanto, also emphasized the importance of the consumer to agriculture. He tweaked Borlaug’s original quote, as well: “Take it to the consumer, in order to get it to the farmer.”

Corteva CEO James Collins
All of the executives linked their ongoing – and growing – research and development pipeline, but emphasized sustainability – a key concern of consumers around the globe.

“We are in the midst of an ag revolution,” Collins said, one that is “every bit as groundbreaking as the Green Revolution in the 1970s.” He described the current wave of innovation as the “defining force in many of our lifetimes.”

Collins outlined 4 areas of collaboration inside Corteva:

  1. “Bringing the outside in.” This is how he describes bringing outside innovation inside the walls of Corteva. “We don’t have all the answers,” Collins said, saying he plans to get help from farmers, startups, consumers, and business partners through the “Open Innovation Portal” from Corteva. His examples included CRISPR technology, avocadoes that last longer on shelves, and seeds more resistant to pathogens – even drones in rural Africa operations for microdosing crops with just enough crop protection.
  2. Promoting science-based decision making. “We have to be relentless in engaging consumers.” Building trust with regulators and consumers has never been more important, he said.
  3. Education to better prepare future farmers – especially smallholder farmers.
  4. The global water challenge. Current water supplies will only supply 60% of the demand in the future. “We must take ownership for water issues. The challenges are real,” he said, but there’s also a great business opportunity in solving the water issues.

Corteva believes that ag will build stronger economies and communities across the globe, and making the “planet healthier and freer of conflict.”

Liam Condon
Condon, like the others, stressed the need for innovation, and that agricultural companies cannot do it all alone. “We firmly believe we need more innovation,” he said, liking innovation to improving global goals. “If you’re progressing on agriculture, you will be progressing on the U.N. sustainable development goals.”

The secret sauce for Bayer is the ability integrate their newly combined assets: seeds & traits (from Monsanto), crop protection (from Bayer), and technology solutions (from Climate Corporation). “We need a lot more innovation than just Bayer alone. We have to reach out beyond our own lands and fields,” Condon said.

He gave examples of Bayer’s blueprint for innovation:

  • “Breakthrough innovation” such as Climate Corp.’s “Field View” product, which integrates data from more than 40 suppliers and integrators. Condon believes that this data-intensive agriculture can change to an “outcomes based” environment, vs. an “inputs based” environment. What does that mean? It could be that companies move to a guarantee of yield, for example.
  • “Open innovation” such as Bayer’s partnership to eradicate malaria with other competitors – an example he highlighted to reach outside its own walls to collaborate to solve the world’s problems.
  • “Social innovation” that Bayer is undertaking to improve the health, nutrition, and livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the globe.

But Condon said the proof isn’t just words spoken on a stage at a global food conference:  “The currency of trust is transparency,” he said. “Just making statements won’t work. We’ll be judged on how we behave.”

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