Last week Farm Industry News editors travelled to Kissimmee, Fla., to take part in Bayer CropScience’s 8th Annual Ag Issues Forum. Topics included consumer activism and its impact on agriculture, global food trends, attracting and retaining the next generation of farmers, and pioneering sustainability as U.S. agriculture strives to feed a growing world population from a finite amount of farmland.

Bayer provided the following summary of the two-day event:

Sustainable Success in Agriculture: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities. David Hollinrake, Vice President, Agricultural Commercial Operations Marketing, Bayer CropScience, talked about the key challenges facing the agriculture industry and how Bayer is preparing to address them.

“Weather extremes, market volatility, limited arable land, access to food and more all mean that we need to increase food production by 70 percent to meet demand by 2050,” he said. “We face challenges now, such as pest resistance, regulatory hurdles, traceability, development costs, qualified labor squeeze and consolidation across the value chain.”

He said Bayer CropScience is ramping up its crop protection portfolio and leveraging expertise in seeds, chemistry and biologics to address the challenges. Starting in 2013, the company also will be collaborating with other companies, most recently MS Technologies, to come up with solutions.

2025 - Custom Commodities: How Data Propelled Agriculture. Rich Kottmeyer, global agriculture and food production leader with Accenture, a management consulting firm, provided a glimpse of agriculture in the year 2025. He based his views on research, work experience, and a series of detailed analytic and data-based projection models.

Kottmeyer said that in 2025, consumers are looking for value-added product, spawning the next revolution in productivity powered by data and analytics. By 2025, farming in youth has changed to younger, more urban farming with more diversity through piloted programs, he continued to say. Some programs are due to government action, but mostly private sectors and farmers that needed labor. In 2025, America is not the top economy. There is a growing population across the globe which affects the percentage of population. Biotechnology is at the core of sustainability. Growing more with less will occur because of biotechnology and we need to focus on consumer versus regulators. “We should always look at food security as a problem and build for today and not just for tomorrow,“ said Kottmeyer.

Connecting the Dots: The Business Case for Safe, Affordable and Sustainable Supply Chains. Rob Kaplan, Senior Manager of Sustainability, Walmart Stores, shared how Walmart is embracing the idea that collaboration up and down the supply chain to meeting consumer demand for sustainable products. Rick Tolman of The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) joins the discussion as a partner in these efforts.

Kaplan emphasized that sustainability is a journey not a destination and Walmart’s goal is to talk about where we are today and where we want to go. Walmart is not a grower or a farmer, so they need to find the experts within the supply chains to help them figure out what is the right plan to get from here to there.

“Consumers take less than three seconds to figure out what product they pick, so [we] want to make sure it’s sustainable,” said Kaplan. “We have everyday low prices, and we need them to know that they have the most sustainable product.” Walmart is looking for how the supply chain can work together to deliver that promise and leverage the efficiencies of the system. Kaplan said, “It’s not sustainable if it's going to cost more.” Kaplan encourages farmers to get advice from the farm experts and says it’s up to suppliers to demonstrate commitment and be leaders.

Tolman and NCGA often work with colleagues overseas to find sustainable solutions to production issues. For example, polenta producers in Italy are encountering production issues due to the lack of tools like pesticides for corn crops. Tolman emphasized that higher costs are not sustainable, including progress made through adverse conditions in production practices. “Farmers can’t ignore sustainability, and need to tell the sustainability story. It’s an opportunity to start to differentiate themselves,” said Tolman. “A farmer is thinking that they have land and desire to pass it on to family. They want to leave it in better shape for future generations.”

Frenemies: The Evolving Relationship between Consumers and Agriculture in Today’s World. Lorna Christie, Executive Vice President and COO, Produce Marketing Association (PMA), started by emphasizing the opportunity the industry has to tell the story of agriculture and influence consumer perceptions. “June Cleaver is not shopping anymore. [The]shopper of today has a radically broader world… and much more power,” said Christie. She stated there is also a lack of balanced media coverage and people are interested in personal stories, and not necessarily the scientific. “We need the agriculture world to take control of their brand and get in the space first. It’s a lot harder to rebrand than brand,” said Christie.

Fresh Perspectives on the Future of Farming. In this panel discussion, three industry leaders offered insight on how to prepare for the future of agriculture. Greg Duerksen, President of Kincannon & Reed, discussed farming talent, how we can attract the next generation of farmers and what those farmers’ expectations are. The grower is now the CEO, and some of these farming positions are $300,000-a-year jobs. Duerksen said, “There is lots of capital available for farming, and the talent to manage is what is lacking.” We need to continue to educate and train this next generation of talent and seek technically competent businesspeople who build and lead teams because it’s not the same as our predecessors experienced. “Individuals choose career paths for a combination of money, vision, values and challenge, so crop farming has to compare favorably to the alternatives in all of these.”

Keith Lane, Senior Vice President-Agribusiness for Farm Credit Mid-America, took another approach, discussing what we can expect from a financial standpoint on the farm. The 2012 drought, volatile commodity prices and global economies are now shaping lenders’ perspectives on the future of farming. Lane noted that we need to look at the future of farming in areas of specialization, volatility and capital access. From a business standpoint Lane said, “You can have [a] big farm that’s still small business.” Lane also agreed with Duerksen’s previous comments noting, “In order to continue having a successful operation and business, we need to expand our employee outreach to other educated youth aside from the small pool of farm kids.”

“The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) has a mission to ensure Illinois soy is the highest quality, most dependable, sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace,” said Craig Ratajczyk, the CEO of ISA. Ratajczyk said that the topics we are looking at today, such as the “grower in the boardroom,” go hand-in-hand with ISA’s future development of their board of directors and it takes all of us involved determining how to operate more efficiently and productively. “People and ag businesses need to start thinking out of the box, and adopt new technologies,” stated Ratajczyk, “Like the head of any type of Fortune 500 company, [growers] have to understand the inputs and outputs and how to become a good leader.”

Grower Panel: Doing Things Differently – Diversification for a New World. Dee Dee Darden, from Smithfield, Va., noted that we need to “bring the sexy back to farming,” which became the hit quote of the day. Darden’s point was that in order to inform a growing and diverse population on modern agriculture, we need to get the growers and producers more involved in telling the agriculture story to the public through increased communication skills and putting a face to the farmer. “It’s a hard sell to farmers, but ag advocacy is just as important as farming itself,” said Darden. Darden and her family started this education outreach right on the family farm, where they invite kids onto the farm to learn about agriculture and where their food comes from.

John Shepherd, a young farmer from Smithfield, Va., and 2012 recipient of our Young Farmer Sustainability Award, added to the discussion noting that a lot of the public is misguided in their opinion of modern ag, such as GMOs. Shepherd stated, “If we can move towards educating people about these things and how they are saving us through making farming more sustainable, then we are on the right track.”

Eddie Adams, a sustainable cotton farmer from Senath, Mo., said we need to continue to look into new technologies to be sustainable, as well as continue to educate the public on the sustainable practices currently being implemented on the farm. “Sustainability and efficiency are the key to our survival as we need to provide food, fuel and fiber for an increasingly growing population,” said Adams.

Bill Horan brought an interesting perspective as COO of an Iowa-based company that produces human pharmaceuticals for biotech companies using a variety of plant platforms. Horan stated, “Anytime that we have the opportunity to talk with media, it’s good for the industry to educate others on modern ag.” Horan added about feeding a growing population, “We hear in the mass media about 2 billion people coming in 2050; however, the important number is the 2 billion middle class incomes. This audience will be requiring meat, and we have to produce this meat which will change everything we have done in ag up to this point. How producers and companies are going to strategically do this is the next wave of understanding.”

For more information on the 2013 Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum, visitwww.bayercropscience.us.