ST. LOUIS — Monsanto has pledged to reduce water and
nutrient use as part of a new sustainability initiative.
The company is one of eight of the nation’s largest food
companies working with Walmart in the retailer’s first Sustainability
Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant kicked off a
teleconference by saying that the initiative makes everyone a winner.
“We recognize that we play an important role at the start of
the food chain, and we’re committed to partnering with our farmer-customers who
raise the crops that sustain all of us,” he said. “This isn’t simply an
altruistic vision. It’s good for business, it’s good for the environment, and
it’s good for society at large.”
Executives from Cargill and the Dairy Farmers of America
also attended the recent forum held at the Bentonville, Ark., headquarters of
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer. Food giants attending included Kellogg,
Coca-Cola, General Mills, PepsiCo and the Campbell Soup Co.
Monsanto has announced that it will reduce water use 25
percent by improving irrigation at its global seed production operations by
“Depending on weather, this could potentially give savings
of 70 to 80 billion gallons of water, enough water to supply the people of
Washington, D.C., for two to four years,” Grant said. “That’s a savings
(equivalent to) 45,000 to 110,000 Olympic swimming pools of water.
“We’ll do this by pursuing smarter, more efficient
approaches to irrigation and leveraging our latest technology systems across our
company to achieve this goal.”
He noted that through irrigation, agriculture is the largest
consumer of fresh water.
Michael Doane, the company’s sustainable business solutions
lead, pointed to a project in South America in which water use was measurably
“For the past six months, we had a pilot in Brazil where we
used a pivot-based on-plant stage growth, weather conditions and other factors
so that we’re applying the water more accurately when it’s needed where it’s
needed,” he said.
Monsanto produces seed on more than 1 million acres.
Reducing water use will benefit all stakeholders involved in the process, Grant
“It’s a big footprint. The lion’s share of that is
irrigated,” he said. “There is definitely a cost opportunity for us and for our
contract partners. We were surprised when we started penciling out the volumes
that are involved in irrigation. If you’re using a trillion gallons of what a
year and you can improve efficiency 25 percent, that is going to fall on the
bottom line eventually.”
Efforts to reduce nutrient use include continuing technology
involving “smarter seeds” and precision management tools on Monsanto’s seed
production acres. Cover crops also fit into the initiative.
Assumption, Ill., farmer Leon Corzine, who joined Monsanto
executives for the teleconference, said farmers always have embraced
sustainability, but modern technology provides opportunities to grow more while
using fewer inputs.
“One of the things I learned from my dad and granddad was
that I have to leave the farm better than I found it. That really is what
sustainability is all about,” Corzine said. “We are able to do that better than
we ever have before because the technology we have today is awesome.
“We’re able to increase our productivity while lowering our
environmental footprint. We’re also, at the same time, producing a
higher-quality product. We’re learning we need to have a balanced approach. For
example, only reducing input does not get us where we need to go.
“Growing crops and reducing sustainability is like a
symphony. All of these tools, including GMOs, are part of that sustainability as
we work to meet the needs of society in the future.”
Increased global demand for agricultural products due to
population growth and higher incomes is driving the industry to find sustainable
solutions, Grant said.
“There will be increased demand for ag products by a growing
population and more protein-rich diets of an increasing global middle class,” he
said. “We have to grow more with less. We’ve made really great progress in the
past, but there’s much more to be done.”