World Agricultural Challenges: Global Agribusiness Forum Opening Address

Good morning, everyone. It is my great honor and privilege to provide the opening comments at this prestigious Global Agribusiness Forum.  We can all look forward to two days of stimulating and thought-provoking presentations and discussions. The scope of the sessions and topics speak to the title of our meeting – Science from the field to the benefit of the planet.

It is great to see so many people here from Brazil and from all parts of our planet. Because it is our world, our earth, which is at the heart of all that we do every day – as farmers and scientists, food processors and retailers, technology providers and agribusiness companies, legislators and regulators. And last, but not least, NGOs, the media and consumers.

All of us know the huge agricultural challenge that is before us. We must feed a growing world population.  We must produce more food in the next 50 years than has been produced in the last 10,000 years so that we can feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050.

And we need to produce this food sustainably, respecting and improving our environments.

How will we do this? We will grow more food on less land, using fewer inputs, respecting water quality/quantity, improving soil health, working to mitigate climate change.

It is not easy for our minds to grasp the abstract numbers such as 10 billion people, or thirty-two years into the future.  However, the theme of our forum also says – Action is Now. The world cannot wait. The time to act is now, if we are to provide for the needs of future generations; food, feed, fiber and renewable energy.

I am a grandmother. Every day I look into the eyes of 4 little boys and contemplate their future. I am compelled to act, to do my small part to protect and preserve our land and resources for them and a growing world population.

As we begin this forum, I urge you to consider the next two days as a fundamental and human challenge for all of us, to think about how each of us could take action now, personally and collectively.

We need to seize the opportunity to learn from our speakers and panelists. Take what we have learned and do something. Be energized and commit to action. Go home a changed people and be change agents. 

Whatever ag business we are engaged in, we can, and we must do something on a personal level to defend what it is we do and why we do it. We must take responsibility to challenge and correct myths and misinformation about food production and technology that might influence our very own circle of families, friends and acquaintances. We need to make our voices heard. And we need to be mindful of the voices of those far removed from the production side of food and energy, who perhaps get their information from social media or NGOs without having the benefit of knowing the context.

Farming, food production, pesticides and technologies such as genetic modification are under siege in ways that perhaps none of us could have imagined. Our challenge is not only to ensure that food and energy security are safe and properly regulated, but also to ensure that consumers are not left behind in understanding what we do, why we do it and why safe and tried technologies are critical to sustaining our planet.

We must not, we simply cannot, allow ideology to overwhelm the pressing need for innovation and new technologies. Of course, we must weigh the risks and costs of adopting new technologies – food safety comes first.

I am grateful that we live in an age and generation when science provides us with tools to evaluate and manage risk. We must also assess the risk and cost of not adopting a new technology.

I believe we are entering another critical phase in mankind’s evolution of food and agriculture. It is perhaps best described as a sustainable revolution.

Farmers, like me, need access to the best tools and technologies if we are to meet ag challenges. Farmers everywhere, across every generation, have always looked to new and safe ways to improve their operations – grow better crops and livestock, improve soil quality, and make better use of natural resources.

Advancing technologies enable us to build and integrate energy agriculture and food agriculture, as a means to increase food security, bring more stability to food prices, to stimulate and implement technological improvements in all areas of agriculture.

I am a witness to the renewal and revitalization of farms and communities in rural America because of the birth of corn ethanol production and markets in our neighborhoods. This gave opportunity for young people to return because of economic improvement and stability.

Beyond my own farm, corn ethanol, renewable fuels are good for the world, our environments; reducing ghg emissions, and providing a better alternative than electric vehicles. I look forward to exploring this further tomorrow in panel 10.  

In my lifetime I have seen and been able to use technologies that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. And while GPS navigation, precision agriculture, drones and big data might be more common on farms in the developed world, other technologies such as tensiometers to control water irrigation and biotechnology to improve seeds and reduce chemical use can be scale-neutral thus allowing even small farmers to benefit.

In the midst of this great progress, all of us here today should be concerned about the unprecedented attacks on science, innovation and technology by professional activists who threaten to slow and even halt the adoption of technologies. Technologies that could solve many of the issues facing our world’s food and energy security.

We need to be worried about the growth of so-called scientific papers which are being published in questionable scientific journals without proper peer review. Such reports are quoted extensively by activists and politicians as “evidence” contrary to regulatory assessments.

Last month The Economist magazine reported that in 2010 there were 53,000 so-called scientific articles published in questionable publications often having paid for the privilege. Today, that number is 400,000 such articles.

We need to be worried about the increasing failure of many politicians and regulators across the world to support science-based decisions when considering new technologies. We have seen legislation on new product approvals suffering delays in one region while being approved in others. This results in trade distortion of commodity crops such as maize and soya when GM legislation is asynchronous between exporting and importing countries.

We need to worry that the lessons of history will be repeated when we consider some of the new technologies such as plant breeding innovations which could suffer the same fate as  genetic modification demonized by bogus claims and pseudo-science, leaving consumers confused and fearful.

Farmers and the food industry will need access to the best tools and technologies if we are to meet the world’s challenges.  Shortly before he died, the father of the green revolution, Dr. Norman Borlaug, said “Get it to the farmer”.

 He knew farmers need access to continued research, innovation and technology, bringing science from the lab to the field and yes science from the field to the benefit of the planet. whether on a farm in Argentina, Brazil, Africa or the United States.      

The role of farmers in the Americas is especially critical. Global food security depends upon us being the safety net to regions of the world with less land and water available for agricultural production. That means we need trading systems that allow farmers in our regions to access new innovations and markets so we may sell our grain where ever it is needed in the world. 

Addressing our challenges requires collaboration and ongoing communication by farmers and all people in agri-business value chain across the various segments of our society. The agenda of this year’s Global Agribusiness Forum allows us to explore all these pertinent issues with the help of our distinguished moderators and speakers.

We come from the earth, and we will return to the earth. What we do with our time in between is up to us. It is our responsibility and our legacy. So, the time is now for us to engage on the world agricultural challenges. What will you do with what you have learned and who you have met here? Let us be ordinary people doing extraordinary work, Together. I urge you all to participate actively in the debates and I look forward to an inspiring conference.

Thank you.

MAIZALL is an equal partnership of four organizations in three countries: the U.S. Grains Council and the National Corn Growers Association in the United States, ABRAMHILO in Brazil, and MAIZAR in Argentina. While the three countries are vigorous competitors in world markets, their producers are jointly committed to trade, modern agricultural technology and improved market access.