Smart and sustainable food systems

One of our most basic needs — a reliable food supply — is constantly threatened by weather, pests, diseases, weeds and the volatility of commodity markets. With the coronavirus pandemic and the continuing disruption caused by climate change, it’s clear that the need for sustainable farming and a more resilient food system has never been greater. The debate is how we can best achieve this and how the policies in the EU Green Deal will enable it.

Climate and environmental challenges require understanding and collaboration

Stakeholders across the farm-to-fork value chain including farmers, input suppliers like ourselves, as well as regulators, policymakers and civil society are all critical players in the global food system. We have many interdependencies and it’s imperative we all work together to guarantee the safety and reliability of our food supply. We believe that agriculture can and will help mitigate climate change and it will be able to face the challenges that climate change brings. Bayer welcomes the primary objective of the EU Green Deal, but we believe the policies to support this need to go further. A holistic approach is needed to enable European farmers to stay competitive in their markets and ensure consumers have enough affordable, quality food. Achieving net-zero emissions requires a common understanding of the critical needs of sustainable farming and a recognition that the best way to meet this goal is through implementing science-based and innovation-friendly policies.

I’m always impressed with the resilience of the farmers I speak with, as each season they face new challenges. The ask is always the same — to help them produce enough safe, nutritious food, through access to tools that enable them to farm sustainably. Our challenge is to develop the technologies and policies so they can flourish.

Innovation is key to achieving our climate goals and agricultural sustainability

There is no silver bullet to solve the many issues facing the future of agriculture. Instead, we need a more diversified approach to sustainable farming. An approach that embraces a wide range of innovations —plant breeding, plant protection products, precision farming and digitalization — to increase food productivity without harming the environment.

Plant breeding innovation blends traditional methods with the latest science and technology to develop new seeds that are better suited to evolving pests and a changing climate. Gene-editing tools like CRISPR, use a plant’s natural genetic variability to develop crops that are more drought-tolerant, more nutritious, and more pest- or disease-resistant in a fraction of the time compared to older methods. This innovation can only flourish with the right policies and regulations. We believe gene editing is not only safe, but fundamental in achieving the goals of the EU Green Deal. The EU needs to find a balanced policy and reverse legislation that blocks new plant breeding tools. Otherwise, Europe could miss out on one of the most promising innovations of our lifetime to enable more sustainable resilient food systems. Another example is the research Bayer is supporting in Germany to develop wheat plants that have improved, multiple and durable fungal tolerance. Such resistant crop varieties, alongside drought-resistant variations, will benefit farmers and consumers alike, as well as using fewer natural resources and protective products.

Plant protection products (PPPs) protect food from diseases, insects and weeds. They are essential to manage the nutritional needs of a growing population but must be used in a way that protects human safety and minimizes their environmental impact. Although pesticides approved in the EU are deemed safe for the environment, the operator and the consumer, it doesn’t mean they have no impact.  Therefore, when regulating pesticides, we should focus on impact reduction, not volume reduction. Bayer is committed to reducing the environmental impact of our PPPs by 30 percent by 2030. We are investing in developing a biological seed treatment on corn made from black pepper oleoresin to reduce or replace the use of existing synthetic pesticides. We need both biologically- and synthetically- derived pesticides to properly manage ever-evolving pest populations that threaten our crops. We also need policies that enable faster access to markets for new active substances. We cannot afford to lull ourselves into the convenient, but scientifically unsupported, argument that only one type of PPP is safe to guarantee the sustainability of our future food supply.

Precision farming and digitalization will significantly transform agriculture in the coming years and are critical to reduce farming’s environmental impact. Digital tools and data analytics are helping farmers make better management decisions in real time, which will help sustainably increase productivity. These tools mean that crop inputs such as fertilizers or PPPs are used only when and where they are most needed. For example, Bayer’s Climate Fieldview helps wheat growers in Europe to automate disease management and use crop inputs more efficiently. Digitalization means multiple technologies and agronomic practices come together in a way not previously possible. The use of drones in agriculture is a good example. Drones can use data imagery to monitor fields so farmers can make accurate decisions about resource management. For these technologies to be truly effective, we need a comprehensive digital infrastructure in rural Europe so digital applications and data science are a continent-wide reality.  Implementing the European Strategy for Data will help enable agricultural digital transformation in all EU member countries.


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