Ag Issues Forum 2013: Day 1 Highlights

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum panel

Tuesday we kicked off our 8th Annual Ag Issues Forum, an invitation-only event bringing together agribusiness, thought leaders and key media to foster conversation and share insight into issues impacting agriculture. The 2013 Forum, “One World to Grow On: Global Insights for Local Impact,” covered topics  including: consumer activism and its impact on agriculture, global food trends, attracting and retaining the next generation of farmers, and pioneering sustainability as U.S. agriculture strives to feed a growing world from a finite amount of farmland. Former CNN correspondent Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and founder of, served as moderator.

Key Takeaways from Day 1 of Ag Issues Forum 2013:

Sustainable Success in Agriculture: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities

David Hollinrake, Vice President, Agricultural Commercial Operations Marketing, Bayer CropScience

Weather extremes, market volatility, limited arable land, access to food and more all mean that we need to increase food production by 70 percent to meet demand by 2050. We face challenges now, such as pest resistance, regulatory hurdles, traceability, development costs, qualified labor squeeze and consolidation across the value chain. “Bayer’s mission is to propel farming’s future – challenges are here to stay but opportunities are really rich,” said Hollinrake. Bayer CropScience is improving the crop protection portfolio, tailoring solutions to meet customer expectations and leveraging expertise in seeds, chemistry and wheat, biologics and more.

The biggest challenge has been creating solutions to meet the current demand in the marketplace.  Technology exists but production levels must increase to meet demand. Additionally, it used to take 10 years and $100 million to get a new product out--now 10 years and $256 million to do the same. There is no way to 'rush' these solutions to the market.  In 2013 and beyond, Bayer CropScience and others will be collaborating with more companies, even competitors, to work together create sustainable solutions.

Strategic R & D Investment

Dr. David Nicholson, Head of Research and Development, Bayer CropScience

Bayer CropScience is one of a few global companies that conduct R&D in animal, plant and human health, and ‘Science for a Better Life’ is truly alive in Bayer CropScience’s organization of over 21,000 employees worldwide. Bayer CropScience’s strong market position is built on its innovative product portfolio – including 150 varieties of vegetables on the market and even mosquito nets to prevent malaria. There are four pillars to Bayer CropScience’s future success: Enhance crop protection, sharpen customer focus, lead the way in innovation and strengthen seed business. Bayer CropScience is working to deliver sustainable crop solutions and differentiate itself from other products in the market place. Through work in chemistry, biotech and biologics, Bayer can build a unique position in crop efficiency to meet customer needs. Nicholson added the biggest challenge has been prioritizing R&D to focus on the right project.

2025 - Custom Commodities: How Data Propelled Agriculture

Rich Kottmeyer, Senior Executive and Global Agriculture & Food Production Leader, Accenture

In this portion of the program, Frank Sesno and Rich Kottmeyer jumped into the future, providing a glimpse of agriculture in the year 2025. Kottmeyer makes projections about the future of agriculture based on research and real work. His view is based on a series of detailed analytic and data-based projections.

Kottmeyer said that in 2025, consumers are looking for value-added product and we must find the next revolution in productivity and be empowered by data and analytics. By 2025, farming in youth has changed to younger, more urban farming with more diversity through piloted programs. Some programs are due to government action, but mostly private sectors and farmers that needed labor. In 2025, America is not the top economy. There is a growing population across the globe which affects the percentage of population. Biotechnology is at the core of sustainability. Growing more with less will occur because of biotechnology and we need to focus on consumer versus regulators. “We should always look at food security as a problem and build for today and not just for tomorrow,“ said Kottmeyer.

Connecting the Dots: The Business Case for Safe, Affordable and Sustainable Supply Chains

Rob Kaplan, Senior Manager of Sustainability, Walmart Stores

Rick Tolman, CEO, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA)

The planet’s capacity to provide the food stuffs that keep us alive are under strain, and the demand for ag products is expected to double over the same period. Executives over the world lament on the limits on their influence over what their companies can do alone, let alone how industries can change. As a leader in the sustainability circle, Kaplan discussed how Walmart is embracing the idea that collaboration up and down the supply chain is the only way to make measurable impact. Rick Tolman of The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) joins the discussion as a partner in these efforts.

Kaplan emphasized that sustainability is a journey not a destination and Walmart’s goal is to talk about where we are today and where we want to go. Walmart is not a grower or a farmer, so they need to find the experts within the supply chains to help them figure out what is the right plan to get from here to there.  “Consumers take less than three seconds to figure out what product they pick, so [we] want to make sure it’s sustainable,” said Kaplan. “We have everyday low prices, and we need them to know that they have the most sustainable product.”  Walmart is looking for how the supply chain can work together to deliver that promise and leverage the efficiencies of the system. Kaplan said, “It’s not sustainable if going to cost more.” Kaplan encourages farmers to get advice from the farm experts and says it’s up to suppliers to demonstrate commitment and be leaders.

Tolman and NCGA often work with colleagues overseas to find sustainable solutions to production issues. For example, polenta producers in Italy are encountering production issues due to the lack of tools like pesticides for corn crops. Tolman emphasized that higher costs are not sustainable, including progress made through adverse conditions in production practices.  “Farmers can’t ignore sustainability, and need to tell the sustainability story. It’s an opportunity to start to differentiate themselves,” said Tolman. “A farmer is thinking that they have land and desire to pass it on to family. They want to leave in better shape for future generations.”

The Broken Plate: Engaging Farm and Food to Meet in the Middle

Michele Payn-Knoper, Principal, Cause Matters Corp. & Author of No More Food Fights!

Michele started her presentation by breaking a plate on the floor symbolizing the break in connection between our societies with the view of our food. “The view of farmers is completely different from a consumer’s eyes. When we lead with science and research, this is not what consumers are listening to. They focus on sight, touch, sound, smell, taste and common sense,” said Michele. The stakeholders of tomorrow are family farmers, chefs and buyers. Payn-Knoper said we need to look across the plate, pick up all the pieces and connect them as a human being to understand what stakeholders are interested in. Then move the conversation to a much higher level.  She added that it’s about building and engaging a community before you have an issue to handle. “It’s about meeting in the middle of the plate,” she said. “People will forget those key messages you are saying, the farming practices, but they will never forget the way you make them feel.”

Frenemies: The Evolving Relationship between Consumers and Agriculture in Today’s World

Lorna Christie, Executive Vice President and COO, Produce Marketing Association (PMA)

Christie started by emphasizing the opportunity the industry has to tell the story of agriculture and influence consumer perceptions. “June Cleaver is not shopping anymore. [The]shopper of today has a radically broader world... and much more power,” said Christie.  She stated there is also a lack of balanced media coverage and people are interested in personal stories, and not necessarily the scientific. “We need the agriculture world to take control of their brand and get in the space first. It’s a lot harder to rebrand than brand,” said Christie.

Follow @Bayer4CropsUS and #AgIssues13 on Twitter to read updates from the conference.  Check out photos from the event on AgWired. Have questions about any of the presentations? Tweet us or leave a comment below!


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