I’m not going to get into the discussion about what causes climate change. I just know that something’s happening and long term we should probably be thinking about it. But I’m not a public company, I’m an editor who tries to help make sense of things for readers. So when Monsanto made an announcement a couple weeks ago (ahead of the Paris climate meetings) I didn’t take too much notice at first, then I wondered, why are they issuing the statement.
Whether you think climate change is human caused or not, corporate America has no choice but to move ahead with a strategy that aims to reduce carbon emissions. That’s because shareholders want to see that happen. They want to know how companies are avoiding the liability of carbon production, and companies are taking notice. They’re working on ways to be carbon neutral. And how will they get there? One company’s approach offers some insight.
Monsanto is committing to that with some pretty bold claims noting the company will be carbon neutral by 2021. The company says it will use a unique program across both seed and crop protection operations and through collaboration with farmers.
Here’s what the company is committing to; and the next three points come straight from their release unedited:
Seed Production – Monsanto will drive carbon neutral crop production in its own seed production operations by leveraging diverse products and agronomic approaches, such as breeding, plant biotechnology, data science, conservation tillage and cover cropping systems, with the goal of eliminating that portion of its carbon footprint altogether. Working with outside experts in data science on extensive modeling, Monsanto has shown that utilizing these practices and innovations can make an important difference, allowing corn and soybeans to be grown such that soil absorbs and holds greenhouse gases equal to or greater than the total amount emitted from growing those crops – reinforcing agriculture’s unique role in climate change mitigation. The company also will work with farmers to promote and drive the increased adoption of these carbon neutral crop production methods.
Crop Protection – The company also is targeting its crop protection business to be carbon neutral by 2021. Previously, Monsanto announced a goal to reduce the operational greenhouse gas emissions intensity in its crop protection operations and has continued to make steady progress against its commitment. To offset the remainder of its crop protection and other non-seed production operations, Monsanto is working to develop a program to provide incentives to farmer customers who adopt carbon neutral crop production methods – in exchange for part of their carbon reduction value. Monsanto will use those reductions as offsets to neutralize its remaining carbon footprint.
Sharing Data, Increasing Adoption of Best Practices – Monsanto has developed the carbon neutral crop models with the help of external experts and will share their data and modeling results with the broader agriculture, climate modeling and other communities to help drive the adoption of best practices and to reinforce the role crops can play in reducing carbon emissions. To date, these models are focused on the U.S. Corn Belt, where the most accurate data on crop yields, soil types, crop rotations and best management practices are publicly available. The models indicate that high yielding, carbon neutral corn and soybean production, in the United States alone, has the potential to reduce crop production emissions equivalent to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equal to reducing 233 million barrels of oil consumption per year.
Data science has a role
The company says a key to some of this is innovations from The Climate Corporation, and other data scientists that have allowed farmers to plant and harvest crops more precisely than ever. One example used is satellite imagery to target emerging pest problems; or development of crop modeling algorithms so a farmer knows exacly how much fertilizer needs to be applied to each field.
While Monsanto can do what it will on its own production practices, farmer-customers may find themselves getting input on the same topics since they’re part of the bigger picture. Of course that’ll put pressure on Monsanto to show the value of the approach, and develop best practices that offer benefits without crimping income.
The company – in its release announcing the carbon-neutral program – quotes Tim Smith, an Eagle Grove, Iowa, farmer who says: “Using these best practices together has proven to not only be good for the environment, but it also maximizes my productivity. In recent years, rainfall events have been more intense in terms of quantity and in frequency, so it is even more important today to implement practices that will help to protect soil from serious erosion losses.”
For more information on Monsanto’s climate change efforts and collaborations, visit monsanto.info/climatech15, monsanto.info/cccoll15 and read Monsanto’s 2014 sustainability report, From the Inside Out.