Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Doane's Monsanto Article

When you read a report like this you become very grateful in the invisible hand of the market place. The real scope and scale of the task facing us on this planet is completely outside the capacity of governments to properly tackle. As I have posted many times, presently perhaps two billion people properly participate in the global middle class, two billion are on the way in while two billion have heard about it. Over the next twenty years, that second two billion will join the global middle class and the third billion will exit subsistence farming and the like. The next twenty years will see the balance join the global middle class.

Can you imagine a government agency preparing as cogent report as this on the problem we face?

Readers of my blog know that my underlying theme is terra forming earth to accommodate the population we have and perhaps much larger populations than that.

So before you read this, recall that the Eden Machine and the biochar protocol for soil fabrication can and will increase farmland by possibly a full order of magnitude. To start with, all tropical soils can be addressed today with the biochar protocol and made intensely productive. After that we have everything else to play with thanks to the Eden Machine.

Quite simply, if you can arrive at any spot on Earth with a machine that sucks water from the atmosphere and by folding in some biochar, you can produce soil you are in business. I suppose we could even get up to putting up green houses in the far north if we cared.

Terracing hillsides in the desert will actually be good idea since erosion can be kept minimal. It will still be decades before we run out of good flat land though and we may simply never bother.

Reproduced in its entirety from Dec. 12, 2008 Doane's Agricultural Report (newsletter)

Monsanto Rep Updates 30-year Plan to Double Crop Yields Worldwide by 2030!

Editor's [Doanes] Note:

St. Louis is home to an extremely robust "Agribusiness Club" that meets monthly near our own offices here. We're members and like to network with executives from some of the nation's biggest agribusinesses with headquarters here.

This week, Mr. Michael Doane (no connection with our company) addressed theluncheon group. He's Director of Monsanto's department of Agricultural Economics and Sustainability.

I took careful notes and thought I should share his remarkably candid summary of Monsanto's ambitious "Sustainable Yield Initiative" to double global crop yields from 2000 level by the year 2030.

The global food supply faces a four-factor challenge, according to Mr. Doane:

1) Continued growth in population,
2) Rapid growth in per capita income,
3) Biofuels as a major new demand factor, and
4) Global warming that agriculture can help alleviate.

In fact, he says Monsanto's view is that agriculture lies at the "intersection" of all four challenges. The world will add "three more Chinas" over the next 22 years according to Mr. Doane, cracking the 9 billion mark in population. However, only 3% of that growth will take place in the developed world. The other 97% will occur in the developing world, where incomes are growing fastest and where the number one priority in spending higher income is on improving diets. He says rising income is an even more potent driver of food demand than population pressure. As just one example, 80% of the population of India - more than a billion people - lives on less than $2 per day.

The growth in global corn demand predates the biofuels boom, according to Doane. All the biofuels boom has done is accelerate the rate of growth. Monsanto expects global corn demand to grow by 34% over the next 10 years, and global soybean demand by 52%. Mr. Doane presented a startling chart that showed 50% of the world's "hungry" are actually subsistence farmers, unable to adequately even feed themselves on their hard-scrabble little plots.

Another 20% of the world's hungry are what Monsanto calls "rural residents," people living in remote rural areas, but not growing any of their own food. Another 10% are what Monsanto calls "fishers and herders." Only 20% of the world's hungry are what they call the "urban poor."

Land and water are serious limiting factors. Despite all we hear about the vast potential development of farmland in Brazil, Mr. Doane says the reality is that world-wide there are about 900 million hectares in production today (2.471 acres to the hectare). And, he says, Monsanto estimates there is only 10% to 12% more land with the soils and climate suitable to be developed for farming. That's about 270 million acres, world-wide. It sounds like a lot, but consider that's only what the U.S. plants to major crops currently. Think about it. We'll be adding three more "Chinas," but have only enough land to equal one more "U.S." in terms of farmland!

Furthermore, of the land already being farmed, 18% must be irrigated, and that 18% accounts for 40% of current global food production. And, as population pressures build in areas where fresh water is already scarce, it's a variation of the "food versus fuel" debate, but more basic: Water for farming versus water for people - and thirsty PEOPLE will ALWAYS outbid farmers with thirsty crops!

Another bit of helpful perspective: Direct, per capita water consumption worldwide is about four liters daily (including drinking water, food preparation, bathing, etc.)

However, if you take into account the water used by each human indirectly (to grow and process food, flush toilets, manufacture consumer goods, etc.) per capita consumption runs about 4,000 liters per day!

So what exactly IS "sustainable agriculture"? The folks at Monsanto define it as "an agricultural system that meets the food, fuel and fiber needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." That's a tall order given that Monsanto estimates the planet will have to produce more food between now and 2050 than the planet has produced in the last 10,000 years! And to reach that goal "sustainably," Monsanto has adopted a corporate goal of helping farmers:

• Reduce the use of inputs per unit of production by one third,
• Reduce the use of water per unit of production by one third, and
• Reduce the use of energy per unit of production by one third.

How do they intend to do that? It's a corporate strategy that rests on a three-legged stool of sorts: 1) Better breeding of seeds for yield, drought tolerance, etc., 2) Advanced biotechnology for weed and pest protection, and 3) Improved agronomic practices that maximize benefits from better breeding and biotech traits. To protect crops from pestsility" they've adopted a corporate mantra that amounts to the following equation: "More production + more conservation = a better life for farmers." Monsanto chairman Hugh Grant is fond of drilling into employees: "If farmers prosper, then we'll prosper."

Meeting the "global warming challenge" is part of the company's sustainable agriculture initiative. Though there are some scientists who still insist warming over the past 50 to 60 years is merely a "cyclical phenomenon" that has gone on for eons and has little to do with human activity on the planet, Monsanto's scientists have accepted that global warming "is real" and that "cropping patterns will have to be adaptive and change with the change in climate." They note that since global warming is blamed on excessivecarbon dioxide production, and that plants absorb CO2 and give off oxygen, agriculture has an important role to play and that it is only proper that farmers earn "carbon credits" for certain management practices that reduce their carbon footprint while increasing plant output. That's why their goals involve producing more crop and income with less chemical input and less water usage.

Monsanto cultivates partnerships, not just test plots. Mr. Doane told the St. Louis agribusiness club in concluding his luncheon address that Monsanto is partnering with groups who share their corporate vision and goals, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Keystone Center, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, the African Agricultural Technology Coalition and the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Question and Answer Session Summary

Question from the audience: How will you know when sustainable agriculture is achieved?

Answer: Sustainable agriculture is a characteristic of dynamic systems that maintain themselves over time. It's not a fixed end point that can be defined.

My question to Mr. Doane: You note that advancement in biotechnology is an important component of your three-pronged strategy. But biotech still has opposition among many environmental groups. How can you convince such groups that if they are serious about preserving habitat and wildlife diversity, they ought to be the biggest cheerleaders for biotechnology, not opponents?

Answer: That's a good question that comes up a lot. Progress is already happening. Here are several very encouraging signs:

• You may recall back in the 1990s, Prince Charles of the UK made headlines worldwide when he attacked biotechnology and said it belongs "only in the realm of God." Not many dared challenge him.
But just a couple of months ago, he started in against biotech again and actually tried to blame biotechnology for the global grain crisis and soaring food prices worldwide. This time, he was roundly attacked and quickly silenced by scientists and politicians alike around the world.

• Just last week, Europe approved use of second generation Round-up Ready soybeans, a dramatic change from long-standing resistance and opposition.

• Just this week, Kenya ratified a biosafety protocol that will allow greater adoption of biotech crops that offer great promise.

• Both the World Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy have reversed their opposition to biotechnology.

They now promote responsible applications that can reduce dependence on chemicals and development of fragile lands that ought to be left for habitat and wildlife diversity, so long as precautions are taken to prevent unintended use. What remains to be seen is how they apply the protocol.

Another audience question: What's been the reaction of the public, politicians and the scientific community outside of Monsanto?

Answer: For the most part, people have been supportive and applaud us. Sure, we have cynics and skeptics who believe it's ridiculous to think we can double global crop yields by 2030. But at Monsanto, we believe in setting ambitious goals that really challenge our people and provide a motivational measure of progress if we fall behind the pace of advances needed to reach those goals. But is it unreasonable? We think not. Even though it took 40 years to double yields between 1960 and 2000, we think we have the need and technological tools to double yields again in 30 years.

Final question: So are you on pace? You say your 30-year window for doubling yields by 2030 actually started in 2000. Are you on pace today?

Answer: To double yields in 30 years, we need an average growth rate of about 2.3% per year. Since 2000, we've met that goal in cotton yields. We're a little short in corn yields, which have grown about 2% per year.

We're falling behind in soybeans, where we've only achieved about 1.25% yield growth since 2000. But can we do it? Absolutely. We've already seen corn yield contests top 400 bushels per acre, and soybean yield contest winners top 150 bushels per acre, just using intensive management with today's seeds and technology. All it means to us is that we've got a bigger challenge in soybeans to meet our goal than in corn or cotton. But we'll meet it. I'm confident of that.

About Monsanto's Michael Doane: Again, he's not connected with this company or our founders. In his current role with Monsanto, Mr. Doane is engaged with the agriculture and food value chain on issues relating to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture systems and has been involved in a variety of industry relations and sales management roles for the company for 10 years. He was raised on a diversified crop and livestock farm in western Kansas and maintains an interest in the family farming operation that is actively managed by his parents and brothers. Prior to his work for Monsanto, Mr. Doane served as the Executive Director of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers (KAWG) - a policy organization representing the interests of wheat farmers. While with the KAWG, Mr. Doane led the organization's state andnational-level policy development, lobbying, and public relations initiatives. He received a M.S. and B.S. in agricultural economics from Kansas State University and resides with his wife, Julie, his son, Morgan and daughter, Sophia here in St. Louis.

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