What is in this article?:
- Robert Fraley of Monsanto says advancements in biotechnology, plant breeding, and agronomic practices must work in harmony to maximize future crop yields.
- With technological advancements, Fraley says, “We will see more changes in farming in the next 20 years than we have probably seen in the last 50 years.”
- Crop yields need to double to triple in the decades ahead to reach a world population expected to top 8 billion to 9 billion people by around 2050.
“Biotechnology is the most rapidly adopted technology in the history of agriculture,” Fraley told the crowd.
Fraley is sometimes called the ‘father of biotechnology.’ During his 25-year Monsanto career, he launched Monsanto’s biotechnology program including his co-inventor role in Roundup Ready soybeans in the late 1990s. Biotechnology has truly revolutionized agriculture in the U.S. and abroad.
Fraley has authored more than 100 publications and patent applications relating to technical advances in agricultural biotechnology.
Today, biotechnology is utilized on 20 percent of the world’s farm land. Farmers in 30 countries, located in each of the world’s major agricultural production areas, grow biotech crops. Every Latin America country has adapted biotechnology.
Fraley says agriculture is at the very beginning of the many benefits to be derived from biotech in the decades ahead. Thus far, biotechnology has provided “step changes” in weed control with Monsanto’s introduction of the Roundup Ready gene in crops.
Similarly, technology for insect control with Bt genes will further spur yields by providing advanced plant protection through drought resistance and better nutrient utilization.
In the next 10 years, Fraley says Monsanto will launch over 30 new biotech products. In the coming decades, the company will unveil innovation to tap into bug and weed control genes, develop genes to better manage drought stress, and improve fertilizer uptake efficiency.
Improvements in agronomic practices are the third leg of the technology stool. Farmers will adapt new ways to derive agronomic improvements.
Precise soil maps will become more accurate as farmers analyze the history of the farm and better utilize GPS and auto steer using complex computer calculations. This will occur through “sophisticated management — foot-by-foot and meter-by- meter” — across the farming operation.
“Today is the era of computerization of the farm,” Fraley said.
Precision technology implemented in the defense and engineering industries is adaptable to agriculture. Technology used on the battlefield for remote vehicles, sensing, positional information, and detection is applicable to crop production. Computational capabilities utilized to model bridges and predict weather patterns also have farm adaptability.
“Equipment design has to catch up and automation has to be simpler and more usable,” Fraley said. “We are heading down that path fast.”
These technological areas must hum in unison to meet the megatrends reshaping agriculture. The trends include record world population growth, increased protein demand, ecosystem impacts on climate change, biofuel demand, demands for a healthier diet, water availability, and global food security.
“Over the next 30 to 40 years, we have to produce twice as much grain as we do today to meet demand.” Fraley said. “We’ll have to double to triple productivity on existing land … The answer is driving production and productivity.”