Breeding, Biotechnology and a Focus on Conserving More in Hawaii to Help Feed More Globally
I am always interested in learning more about the role of biotechnology in the world and had a great privilege to get a blog post from a Monsanto Multi-System Program Lead, Mark Wood. Read on and learn about Hawaii’s role in feeding the world.
There are many urban myths about the company I work for, and I encourage folks to please take the time to learn who we really are and what we really do, so they can separate fact from fiction.
What I’d like to do in this guest blog is share with you why I willingly choose to work for Monsanto and why the work I do matters so much to me personally. The feel of dirt under your fingers and a pride knowing you planted that crop keeps me coming to work everyday.
Where I grew up in Western Oklahoma, the dirt is red – as red as we have here in Hawaii – and farmers had to survive on 14 inches of rain a year. There were shelter belts to protect dry soil from being blown away, and dust bowls were a real concern. Over the years, I began to see how much impact one inch of water can have on a crop for feed, food and ultimately, a livelihood. I developed a passion for conservational tillage and what farmers can do to conserve soil and be more sustainable.
Prior to joining Monsanto, I served as an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, where I focused on evaluating new herbicides, irrigation systems and ways to conserve soil in a state that needs to conserve every inch of water and soil it can. When I was given an opportunity to work for Monsanto, I was also given an opportunity to make a real difference in the place where I lived and eventually, globally. I joined the company because Monsanto focused on sustainable production and is as passionate about agriculture as I am. It allowed me to research sustainable farming practices, and to help farmers.
At Monsanto, I focused on improving dryland yields by combining our genetics research with strip-till and no-till cropping systems. It was rewarding work. I partnered with universities, other seed companies and farmers to collaborate on how we could conserve more and produce more.
In 2004, I transferred to another part of our business that focused on developing the drought trait. This research team was working to develop improved varieties of corn that were better able to tolerate drought conditions. What an exciting benefit it would be for farmers in places like where I grew up. As I visited other countries, I quickly realized the tremendous potential this trait could have for farmers in many places.
Like all biotech traits, this drought trait has traveled a long road to get to market. It has taken almost 12 years to get to where we are today, at a cost of almost $150 million. Why is the cost worth mentioning? The fact that it takes 12 years and $150 million to launch a product underscores the amount of time it takes to research, develop and undergo the regulatory process required to make that trait available to the farmers who want it. By comparison, conventional (non-biotech) products undergo less regulatory scrutiny and can be brought to market in about two-thirds the time.
In 2011, I moved to Hawaii and currently oversee our Multi-Season Program, which supports our corn breeding nurseries. During one of my nursery tours, I took a picture and posted it, highlighting the value of Hybrid Production vs. Open Pollinated corn production. The advantage of corn hybrids is that they yield more and use fewer resources, and the end result is we can feed more.
The large ear of corn in this photo is a hybrid. The one on the bottom is from a maize variety relevant to Africa. So what does this have to do with our work in Hawaii?
Monsanto is working with other key stakeholders to launch a project called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA). Africa has experience severe droughts over the past 10 years – a severe problem when you’re trying to grow enough food to feed millions. The WEMA project seeks to help farmers in Africa address some of these challenges. Monsanto’s contributions include providing maize germplasm (genetic materials of a plant, such as seeds) to help the plant breeding efforts, offering technical expertise to develop and deploy locally adapted maize hybrids, and donating our commercial drought-tolerance and insect-protection traits royalty-free. Some of this very important work is being carried out at our nurseries in Hawaii. We would not be able to do this important humanitarian work if there were bans on GMOs.
There are many myths about Monsanto in Hawaii, but this is something that is real and that everyone Hawaii can feel proud of. Supporting biotechnology means supporting a beneficial technology that helps to feed you and helps to feed people in places where one meal a day is sometimes a luxury.
We operate our nurseries in Hawaii with three goals in mind: produce more, conserve more and improve the lives of others. I am proud to be a part of a company that allows me the freedom to focus on sustainable production, partner with great organizations that help others, and give back to the communities where we live and work.
We are always open for dialogue. All we ask for is an open mind that separates fact from fiction. Check us out at monsantohawaii.srb, look us up on Facebook at Monsanto Hawaii and/or follow us on Twitter, @MonsantoHawaii.