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Achieving an agricultural trifecta: healthy planet, healthy people, healthy profits

Karsten Temme November 29, 2018

In later years, Norman Borlaug would be known as the man who saved a billion lives, but in 1944, he was an agronomist with a problem. He’d moved to Mexico City to join the Cooperative Wheat Research Production Program, a collaborative effort between the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation, out to improve Mexico’s wheat production. At the time, Mexico’s wheat crops were being decimated by stem rust and to feed its growing population, the country was importing much of its grain. It was a problem nations across the world were encountering: how to reimagine their old systems to feed a host of new people.

In that same decade, ecologist William Vogt published his seminal work, Road to Survival, in which he outlined, in alarming detail, the effect that human overpopulation and material greed would have on the planet. His vision of our inevitable future was one of depleted resources and violent conflict:  utter environmental destruction that would lead to drought, famine and war. His recommendation? Cut back, cut back, cut back.

These two men, and their opposing philosophies, are examined in rich detail by Charles C. Mann in his book The Wizard and the Prophet. And today, 70 years later, their viewpoints are as relevant as ever. Borlaug and Vogt were the practitioners I think about often, including during the recent Ag 4.0 Conference, where I sat on the panel called Ag’s Profitable Sustainable Future: Using Technology to Introduce Sustainable Agricultural Practices. My fellow panelists and I discussed the challenge of achieving the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. How do ag companies, and the farmers they serve, balance environmental stewardship while producing more food than ever, and grow a profitable business all at the same time? 

To me, sustainability and achieving the triple bottom line, is about matching supply and demand in a more holistic way. It’s saying that Borlaug and Vogt were both right. Through his research, Borlaug developed dwarfed, high-yielding and disease-resistant wheat varieties that allowed Mexico to become self-sufficient by 1963, and even a wheat exporter. During the 1960s, his work doubled wheat production in India and Pakistan, saving millions from food insecurity and starvation. Meanwhile, just last week, the U.S. government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment that stated, in no uncertain terms, that if we want to protect the planet as we’ve known it, we’ll have to make radical changes to our ways of life; or, as Vogt said, we need to do more with less.

With these principles in mind, the Pivot Bio team is focused on the farmer - helping make every acre more efficient and profitable. With Pivot Bio PROVEN™, the first product to fix nitrogen for corn, we’re helping growers improve crop yields and eliminating pollution from fertilizer runoff. This is saving farmers time and money, as well as supporting the health of their land and communities. As Carley Corrado, Founder & Chief Strategist, Enliven Leadership, stated at our panel, “The life in the soil is the number one metric of sustainability.” We’re proud to be part of a shift in the ag industry, away from the chemical and towards the biological.

We know we’re only one piece of the sustainability solution. Paul Beck, VP of Global Marketing, Verdesian Life Sciences, said it best: “There’s no silver bullet to creating sustainable and profitable ag business. Instead, we’ll need a shotgun approach.” Our moderator, Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder & Managing Director, Agritecture Consulting, discussed challenges in distribution. Gabriela Burian, Global Director for Sustainable Agriculture at Bayer Crop Science, noted the essential issue of water access, explaining that although her native Brazil makes up only three percent of the world’s population, they hold 17 percent of the planet’s freshwater. While Dr. Zhongli Pan, a Research Engineer from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), reminded us of dramatic water savings thanks to advances in efficient irrigation.

Every farmer I’ve spoken to wants to ensure that their farm remains productive next year and generations to come. And, having spoken to growers during our field trials of Pivot Bio PROVEN™, we understand the real and pressing economic realities they face. That even if a product promises an environmental benefit in years to come, the changes have to make financial sense. We also know one of the most powerful resources is information, particularly practice sharing between farmers. If you’d like to know how other growers are utilizing Pivot Bio PROVEN™, we’d love to talk and see if we can help you achieve your triple bottom line: healthy planet, healthy people, healthy profits.

Check out our story at pivotbio.com