Media summit focuses on ag sustainability, innovation

The use of new research and innovations to boost farm productivity in a sustainable way, and the need to communicate such goals to the consuming public, were the focus of a media summit convened here this week by German chemical giant BASF.

At a meeting of roughly 100 journalists and company representatives, all parties were treated to a series of presentations on sustainability and innovation in agriculture. Although some of the themes might be deemed by some to be "old news," there was also plenty of fodder for future stories and debates, courtesy of lively panel discussions and interactive sessions.

The bulk of presentations and panels at the 2012 BASF Agricultural Solutions Media Summit here took place Tuesday, and while most events were geared to U.S. farm production, a panel discussion on Canadian developments was also featured, with equal involvement for Western and Eastern Canada.

Two key words, sustainability and innovation, were heard repeatedly during the sessions. Executives with BASF, as well as company advisors and field specialists, underscored the importance of the need to recognize both in the same sentence and within the same vision, particularly sustainability.

Video segments presented a common theme of attempting to build the bridge between farmers and consumers, with one segment asking the average consumer what they think of "feeding the world." Most of the responses demonstrated little knowledge or consideration of the issue beyond meeting the food and nutrition needs of the individual.

In the same segment, there was a counter depicting the world’s population in 2010 as 6.9 billion, then increasing to the oft-cited 9.4 billion by 2050. The next slide noted "While we’re busy making more people, Mother Earth isn’t making any more farmland." The question is then posed, "Is this sustainable?"

Also stated several times during the day, sustainability is now being defined as a balance between producing sufficient food for more people while minimizing any harmful ecological impact, all while recognizing the economic needs of consumers and producers alike.

Although it is important to increase production on a global basis, that drive must not come at all costs, particularly where the environment’s concerned. And while there is a push for safe and abundant food, the farmer must be properly rewarded for his/her expertise and production, yet not to point where the consumer can no longer afford to eat.

During one of the morning sessions, BASF Plant Science division president Peter Eckes highlighted developments in the company’s research pipeline. On one slide he noted there are seven different "yield and stress" trait packages on which BASF is partnering with Monsanto, including drought-tolerant corn and higher-yielding canola and wheat.

BASF, he said, will be expanding its North American headquarters at Research Triangle Park in Durham, N.C. The move acknowledges the adoption of genetically modified cropping systems in North America, where 43 per cent of crops grown in the U.S. are GM. In Canada, seven per cent of all crops are genetically modified. The move also puts BASF closer to emerging GM players in Brazil and Argentina, where those percentages are 19 and 15 per cent, respectively.

A panel discussion closed out the morning’s proceedings, with input and interaction with the audience, as well as perspectives from extension, food processing, an agricultural dealer/retailer, a farm organization president and a farmer.

Among the many statements to come out of that discussion was an opinion that the farm press can play a bigger role in informing what is accepted as a largely unaware, if not ignorant, non-farming, consuming public.

Fred Luckey, a former executive with Bunge Milling and now chair of Field to Market, a coalition of members of the food value chain, told representatives of the farm media that they have done a sufficient job of telling agriculture’s story to their readers.

However, those readers, from farmers and researchers to extension personnel and industry stakeholders, are the converted; they already know what’s happening within the agri-food industry. The task before them now, he said, is to find some way to deliver that message to a wider audience, to those who don’t understand modern-day farming and what it means in their daily lives.

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont.

Related story:
BASF to focus plant biotech work on Americas, Jan. 19, 2012

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