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The agriculture industry needs to do a better job of educating the public about the challenges of feeding a growing population and the necessity of using both traditional methods and new technology to achieve sustainable food production.
Ag industry companies are aggressive about aricultural research, but government investment in public institutions is a good investment, says Monsanto President and COO Brett Begemann.
Climate change poses another challenge and may put even more pressure on water. Begemann has seen evidence of change. When he started working with Monsanto years ago in Minnesota, North and South Dakota were considered wheat states. Now they grow a lot of corn. “Sure, better, more adaptable varieties have helped expand the corn (growing zone) but the warmer climate is a key factor.”
That represent another talking point for a discussion between agriculture and consumers, he said. Adjusting to a changing climate, at the same time the population is rapidly expanding, puts more pressure on the food production system. “That means even more pressure on conserving water and topsoil,” Begemann said. “We have to become more efficient and we have to get society to help us. That means we have to talk to them. We need for them to know that we have to use all our agriculture production systems and not engage in debates about which is better.”
He said a better dialogue with society in general would have made introduction and acceptance of biotechnology smoother and possibly prevented some of the “myths” prevalent today.
“We can’t go back, but we can do something now. We (in agriculture) are at the beginning of the food chain. We have to provide bright people with the information we have about food production. But we also have to look at the information they have. We need to do some things differently going forward.”
Begemann said the communication age offers significant new benefits and serious challenges. Information is readily available to anyone with a computer or a smart phone. “The challenge is that everyone is a publisher,” he said. But not everything published is accurate. “We have fewer checks. But we can help supply more fact-checked information that the public will see and understand.”
Social media, he added, offers agriculture an opportunity to get information to the general public.