As Steve Forbes once said, “unleashing human ingenuity will help us feed more people more efficiently than in any other era in history.” Adrian Percy couldn’t agree more, but points out we now live in a society that first must decide which innovation it will accept before we can unleash it into agriculture and use it successfully.
“Without public acceptance, all of this hard work means for nothing,” Percy said.
The Global Head of R&D for Bayer Crop Science, Percy kicked off the 2018 Bayer AgVocacy Forum in Anaheim, California Sunday afternoon with his presentation on innovation and collaboration. Percy said a lot of people are betting on agriculture right now with companies such as IBM and Google trying to enter the market, investments coming in from venture capital money or private groups, and ideas stemming from outside industries such as healthcare.
However, the renowned researcher believes three important innovations will play into sustaining ag’s future:
- Digitalization – Percy said this innovation alone will continue to revolutionize farm-decision making through improvements in advanced robotics, aerial imagery, diagnostic and predictive software, mobile applications, and high-tech sensors
- Plant breeding – The next great leap in improved genetics and varietal selection.With CRISPR technology, we will be able to breed plants that are more suited to geography and have different agricultural traits, we will also be able to address consumer-facing traits such as taste, texture, color, convenience, and allergen-free.
- Soil Health – The next frontier in farming. While we may understand a great deal about soil health now, Percy said there is a going to be a big boost in trying to understand the structure of the soil as part of the microbiome. In fact, he contends there is a massive productivity gap that needs to be uncovered.
But even with these exciting innovations on the horizon, Percy said it’s all for nothing if we don’t restore public trust.
Bayer recently conducted a consumer survey that showed many of the respondents having the attitude that while “modern agriculture is necessary, it’s just not necessarily for me.” Only 31 percent of respondents believe advancements are safe and 77 percent think the long-term effects of genetically modified seeds are not yet known. Eighty-nine percent said they are concerned pesticides do more harm than good, including impacting our water supply.
That’s why Bayer has started to focus more on transparency and agvocacy. Percy said the concerns people have about modern agriculture are addressable, but things have not been explained fully or in the right way in the past.
The company is now trying to get ahead of the issue starting with youth. Bayer works with 4-H and FFA students to get them excited about STEM, volunteers at local schools to get kids curious about science, and hosts a Youth-Ag Summit each year with university students from every corner of the globe to tackle the issue of how to feeding a growing population.
Bayer has also started a ForwardFarming initiative where the public is invited to come see what a grower does and how they steward the land. The first U.S. farm joining the initiative will be located near Washington, D.C. with the hopes that some of the legislators and regulators deciding some of these farm and food policies can visit.
Why has the industry lost consumer trust? Percy said it most likely resonated from not reaching out to consumers first. And now the industry is dealing with a pushback to ag and science in general.
“The science is there. We are in an amazing time in science, innovations coming across from many, many different domains, enabled by digitization essentially,” Percy said. “We can make those inroads to increasing ag productivity, but again those innovations need to be accepted.”