Agriculture has has had several “revolutions” since the beginning of the 20th century, when almost every family in the U.S. was involved in farming in order to sustain themselves, to today, when fewer than 2 percent of Americans are classified as farmers.
Now, says Mike Stern, president and CEO of Climate Corporation and vice president of Monsanto, “We’re at the cusp of the next wave of innovation in agriculture — which we call digital agriculture.” Over the past five to seven years, he notes, equipment, operations, and processes have increasingly become digitized, “not unlike how our society has changed in terms of the tools and types of things we can do.”
Monsanto, the dominant force in weed control and seed technology, recently spent almost $1 billion to acquire Climate Corporation, which uses weather data from 2.5 million locations and 150 billion soil readings — some 10 trillion data points (50 terabytes of data daily) — to help farmers better understand and manage climate fluctuations that can have an impacton their food and fiber production.
The acquisition was not without misgivings, particularly by anti-pesticide/anti-large scale agriculture groups Among those less than happy was the father of Climate Corporation CEO David Friedberg, who chastised his son for selling to “the most evil company in the world.”
In an e-mail to his employees, outlining his reasons for the sale, Friedberg says, “I make my decisions as a scientist.” He avers, “I am not the kind of person who would take easily to partnering with a company that ‘poison’s the world’s food system,’ lays waste to the land, puts farmers out of business, or creates a monoculture that threatens the global food supply.”
His father, Friedberg said, “has a bit of a dramatic flair (might be where I get it from), generally tends towards reading ‘liberal’ blogs as his primary news source, and likes to quickly jump to big hefty conclusions. But I was not prepared for the sort of reaction I got from him. In fact, it hurt to hear this from my close family — especially after all of the work needed to get to this point and with so much excitement about what was ahead; to be chastised for this exciting decision was really, really hard.
“So, I started sending my dad information, talked to him at length about GMOs, the history and business practices of Monsanto, and the future we could now enable, and, ultimately, he understood my perspective. In fact, he actually started sharing my enthusiasm, telling some of his friends over the past few days how they have it all wrong.
“It definitely took me a while to get him to that point — I had many months of research behind me to prepare for those conversations and the conversations themselves were lengthy and detailed.”
Much of the public opposition to genetic engineering of seeds and crops, Friedberg says, is because most people just don’t understand the science. “I have read the science — it was not a short and easy effort. And I think Monsanto has created amazing and safe technology.”
Friedberg cautions his employees: “Let us not be deterred or distracted by misinformation, fear, or anecdote. … Let science and fact guide you.”
The letter, in which Friedberg also puts a lot of the accusations and misinformation about Monsanto in perspective, was published in a New Yorker article by Michael Specter, and you can read it here: http://bit.ly/1NrElKl