(Posted Wed. May 15th, 2013)
May 15: Yesterday, National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman took part in a panel discussion on “Adapting in Real Time to Climate Change” held as a part of Monsanto Media Days. The dialogue, which featured many industry leaders and experts on environmental issues, provided information on agricultural innovation and sustainability for national, local and farm media.
Tolman began his presentation by discussing how corn farming has adapted over thousands of years in North America from the early Native Americans who bred Teosinte to produce early corn to the modern farm families who use improved seed varieties and precision planting technology to increase yields while decreasing the amount of inputs needed to grow a bushel of corn. He then noted that, throughout history, corn has been a uniquely American gift to the world that is strategically and economically important as a crop in many countries and as an imported food and feed source in others.
After this conceptualization, he provided impactful numbers and insightful analysis that highlighted specific improvements made in recent years. Siting many interesting findings of a recent report by Field to Market, The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Tolman discussed how farmers, agribusiness, food companies, conservation interests and other nonprofit organizations are coming together with university and agency partners to create an even more sustainable tomorrow for agriculture.
Explaining the improved ability to grow a corn crop even in drought like conditions, Tolman showed how, while severe drought does still decrease yields by roughly 20 to 25 percent off trend, farmers were still able to produce the tenth largest crop on record in 2012, growing more than ten billion bushels of corn, because even decreased yields were in the 120 bpa range. For comparison, he pointed to the average bpa during the two most recent droughts of the same magnitude, 1936 when the average yield was 25 bpa and 1988 when the average yield was 85 bpa.
“Corn farmers have a great story to tell, but it is important to recognize that the story is not over,” said Tolman. “We have already made incredible advances in the technology that we use and the way in which we farm. We grow more with less year after year, and we do so even when facing difficulty, but the ways in which farmers care for the air, land and water while meeting growing global demand is still improving as new production practices and technologies move the industry forward.”
Other panelists included U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Reporting Service National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment Laboratory Director Jerry Hatfield, Iowa farmer and rancher Bill Couser and The Nature Conservancy Director of Agriculture David Cleary. Monsanto Vice President of Sustainable Agriculture Policy Michael Doane moderated the session.