Why does agriculture need to be improved?

Each week, we will answer a question from our readers regarding our operations and community outreach in the State of Hawaii. Submit your question by visiting the contact page. Thanks for reading. Mahalo!

Q: Why does agriculture need to be improved?

A: The answer you’ll hear most often is that agriculture needs to produce more food because the world’s population is growing. That’s certainly true, and Monsanto—along with many other companies, governments and organizations—has been working to develop seeds and other systems that help farmers grow more.

But it’s important to note: the world doesn't just need more food. It also needs better food that’s more nutritious. And it needs to find ways to make the process of growing food more efficient and aligned with our environmental needs, so farmers use less water and land, and better utilize things like fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides.

Right now, there is a big debate over how agriculture should work, and we understand why. Agriculture affects all of us, directly and indirectly. It affects us directly through the food we eat and it affects us indirectly through its relationship to the environment, the use of natural resources and the global economy. Even though farmers grow a lot more than food (such as cotton for clothes and corn and grass for fuel), we think it’s a good thing consumers are increasingly interested in understanding where their food comes from. It’s the first step to understanding how agricultural systems work, and what’s at stake.

Some people believe the correct answer to our challenges is to move backwards in time toward an agricultural system that relies less on human innovations and more on human labor. While we respect that opinion, we don’t share it. Agriculture has benefited from technology and the people who grow our food have sought new ways to improve their own lives—and ours—by producing more with less.   In 1900, 41% of the US workforce was employed in agriculture.  By 2000, only 1.9% of the workforce was employed in agriculture.  Our population grew from 76M to 281M during that century.  That is amazing progress, where a much smaller base of farmers can now produce enough to sustain a much larger population.

At Monsanto, we believe agriculture should be improved for the same basic reasons that medicine, engineering, architecture and computers should be improved: because human innovation is at the center of human progress.