Sustainable Ag – The Next Agricultural Revolution?

By Chuck Magro, President & CEO at Nutrien

I hear a lot of talk about making agriculture more sustainable these days, which is great. But are we doing enough? Is there enough action?

It’s an important question, but a complex one to address. Whether we’re trying to feed the 2 billion more people expected on the planet by 2050 or reduce the impact agriculture has on the environment, we have some big challenges (and interesting opportunities) ahead of us.

History is on our side. For many years, agriculture has proven to be an industry that knows how to adapt and rise to challenges. So the transition to an even more sustainable model is something I am confident we will get right.

But first, some context.

Agriculture has a proud history

The agricultural industry has a lot to be proud of when it comes to the contributions it has made to today’s modern society. In fact, most of us wouldn’t be here without it. The tools and practices farmers are deploying on their farms today have unlocked massive productivity gains that have enabled humanity to continue to grow and prosper. People and the planet have both benefited enormously. Now, that might sound like a bold claim, but consider these facts.

Over the past 50 years, global agricultural productivity has increased [four-fold]. The world’s population is at an all-time high, and yet, the percentage of people who are malnourished globally is the lowest it’s ever been. But we’re impacting more than just food. Those same productivity gains eliminated the need to convert an estimated 5 billion acres into new farmland in order for growers to keep pace with global demand. Put that in climate terms and it means we kept an estimated 80 billion tonnes of carbon (permanently) sequestered in our soils – which is nearly double the estimated annual global emissions.

That’s a good start, but we know there is even a bigger role that agriculture can play.

We need to scale what we already do well

Nutrien Scientist

Greater adoption of modern agriculture practices has the potential to drive enormous sustainability gains around the globe. Consider what is happening on thousands of farms right here in North America. Many growers here have practised no-till farming for decades; invested in technology-enabled, highly fuel-efficient machinery and are using the best available agronomic tools and practices. These growers are managing every inch of their farms to ensure they only provide the crop with exactly what it needs, and nothing more.

The result: higher yields and less greenhouse gases per bushel – all powered by what I would call climate-smart agriculture.

Go to other regions around the world and that simply isn’t the case. There remains extreme imbalance when it comes to productivity and crop input efficiency. Moving others up to the standards we see right here in North America – as well as other pockets around the globe – could be a game changer when it comes to sustainability.

Innovate with the grower in mind

It all starts at the farm.

The good news is that more money is being invested in ag tech than ever before – much of which aims to take sustainable agriculture to the next level. From drones and digital to natural- and biological-based products to gene-editing technologies, our industry is innovating on a broad range of fronts to help make farmers more productive, more profitable, and – yes – even more sustainable.

At Nutrien, we’ve invested about $1 billion towards improving plant nutrition and soil health and creating digital tools and services that bring integrated solutions right to the farm. In fact, our climate smart agricultural products and solutions are core to our strategic growth plan.

We see an exciting future ahead. A future where the grower of tomorrow will be able to create an environmental scorecard of their field, instantly understand how to improve it, and maybe even get paid for what they do – if they do it well. We’re not there yet, but as they say – the future is right around the corner.
Now, there is a great quote that says, ‘If you want to go fast, walk alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ It couldn’t be truer. We need the entire ecosystem to work together to unlock this potential. Innovators creating better products that will drive greater step changes in productivity and crop input efficiency. More collaboration and partnerships across the entire industry to ensure we are creating better tools – not just more of them.

An important Summit for a key moment

We’re in the early days of what could be the next agricultural revolution – which is why Nutrien is proud to be a platinum sponsor of the 2020 World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit. This event provides a unique forum that brings together stakeholders from across the agricultural, food and financing verticals to showcase new and emerging innovation and technology, while facilitating constructive debate and dialogue on issues that are critical to the future of our industry and society at large.

As an industry, we have an opportunity to show how existing tools – and exciting new innovations – play a key role in meeting our food and climate challenges. I’m excited to be on the Summit agenda as a keynote interviewee on these themes, and Mark Thompson, our Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Development and Strategy Officer, is looking forward to returning as a featured panelist regarding the ag-tech investment landscape.

Also, be sure to visit the Nutrien Ag Solutions booth to learn about our approach to addressing critical grower needs through superior science, differentiated functionality and sustainable agriculture.

It’s going to be a great Summit – we hope to see you there.

Chuck Magro will speak during the Keynote Interview: “Keynote Interview: Can Businesses Lead in Transforming the Food System?” at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit on March 17. Mark Thompson, Executive Vice President, Chief Corporate Development & Strategy Officer at Nutrien will also speak, joining the Investment Panel: “Building Confidence in the Financial Markets for AgTech Exits” on March 17.

Nutrien Ag Solutions will also host a St. Patrick’s Day Networking Drinks Reception on March 17, offering an opportunity to reconnect and refresh after a busy first day at the summit.