Bayer Cropscience CEO talks about importance of innovation, technology

Julie Paulson

The future will depend on advancing farming technology to feed a growing world.

That was the conclusion of this year’s Hertz lecture, which was given by Jim Blome, the president and CEO of Bayer CropScience.

“It’s all about innovation and technology,” Blome said. “So it’s important for us to recognize emerging trends.”

These innovations and technologies are needed to overcome the challenges of a changing world. One in eight people go hungry every day in spite of there being enough resources to feed them.

“There are several reasons [for this],” Blome said. “Poverty is one, politics is another and logistics. But we do the best we can.”

The world’s population is growing at a rate of 28,000 people per day, but there is no new land opening up for farming. It’s not just that the population is growing, however. Wealth is increasing as well.

“That’s a lot of people to feed, and that’s a better type of food,” Blome said. “We talk about the swelling middle class.”

That swelling middle class is mostly in China and India, both of which are increasing their production and their imports from America.

This growth will lead to opportunities in agriculture, but there are challenges presented by the weather.

“California is having its worst drought in 300 years,” Blome said. “Texas is in its fourth year of drought.”

Along with weather problems, the amount of farmland per capita is increasing, partly due to construction but mostly due to the quickly growing population.

“When resources are tough, we fight wars,” Blome said. “Food is the new oil, so it’s important for us to grow the food as the growing population will need.”

These shortages have caused a 3.5 percent increase in food prices. For the poorest 2 billion people in the world, this is the difference between two meals and one.

Technology is an answer to these problems. However, this technology isn’t always easy to implement.

“We have different regulations on different companies,” Blome said. “We can’t launch any new technology … until it is approved in all the export nations.”

This includes bans on herbicides and pesticides such as genetically modified organisms, which have been a hot issue in the United States due to their effects on bees, and a ban on Neonicotinoid, which was banned by the European Union and protects seeds from insects.

This is not helped by a lack of funding for agricultural research and the high cost of patenting and copyrighting new technology.

“Today, there’s only six companies in the world that have the resources to …discover new technology,” Blome said. “Food is politics and yet we all need to eat.”

These companies make use of quickly advancing technology — including 3-D printing, drones, smart phones and satellite maps — and new agriculturalists who are also capable of managing a farm.

“We need talent,” Blome said. “There are 19,000 degrees awarded in agriculture each year. The demand is 50 percent higher.”

Bayer CropScience is offering internships and stimulating science in elementary and middle schools in the hopes of finding promising new agronomists.

“Agriculture is the future,” Blome said. “There are challenges, but there are also opportunities.”