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GHI welcomes new board member, Colin Bletsky, and industry leader Novozymes
An interview with Colin Bletsky, Novozymes Vice President of BioAg and Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of Global Harvest Initiative. Novozymes joined GHI’s collaborative membership in June 2015.
Margaret: Colin, you grew up in Canada, with a perspective based on your family’s farming operations. Tell me a bit more about your experience at the intersection of farming and sustainability, and why you are now working for Novozymes.
Colin: I grew up in Eastern Saskatchewan, Canada, on a third-generation family farm growing canola, oats and wheat, where my extended family continues to farm. It’s a tradition each year for my family to help with seeding and harvest. Today most of my time is spent helping other farmers grow their business in Canada, the United States, and increasingly in emerging markets.
Currently my role is Novozymes Vice President of BioAg. I am responsible for the company’s global BioAg business, setting strategy and direction. Novozymes provided me with a great opportunity to gain experience in the global agriculture market. I am especially proud of the exciting work we are doing in global emerging markets such as Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Argentina, China and other countries to advance agricultural productivity and sustainability.
Margaret: Tell us about Novozymes – its history, its global reach, and its part in the agricultural value chain. Why is Novozymes an industry leader today?
Colin: The future holds many possibilities for creating better lives if we can balance the pressure on natural resources and climate with those from growing populations and consumption. That’s where Novozymes comes in: we find biological answers for better lives in a growing world.
Novozymes is a world leader in bioinnovation. The company was founded in 2000, from a demerger of Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company. But Novozymes’ roots date back to the 1920’s, when founders conducted research on enzymes to use for insulin production and other industrial uses. Today our business is biopharmaceutical ingredients, industrial enzymes and microorganisms.
Many people don’t realize it, but they interact with biological innovations every day. Naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria and enzymes, are found everywhere and play a vital but unseen role in improving the health and quality of our lives and environment. For instance, enzymes are widely used in laundry and dishwashing detergents, enabling low-temperature washing and concentrated detergents, which helps conserve water and energy. They are also used to improve the quality of bread, beer and wine, increase the nutritional value of animal feed as well as improve the conversion of energy crops into biofuels.
Novozymes works to identify and select beneficial microorganisms and then tests them extensively, harnessing them to solve challenges across agriculture, energy, food and beverage, textiles, and other industries.
Our headquarters are located outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, with production, sales and affiliate offices in more than 30 countries. Presently our enzymes are at work in more than 40 industries and 700 products.
Margaret: We are excited that Novozymes is joining GHI during the UN designated “International Year of Soils” which is bringing global attention to the critical importance of soil for plant productivity and yield. How does Novozymes innovation help with plant yield in the soil environment?
Colin: Agricultural biologicals (Ag biologicals) are typically topical or seed treatment products that are manufactured from or contain natural materials. Ag biologicals can help increase plant yields in a variety of ways: improving plant nutrient uptake, promoting plant growth and protecting plants from insects, weeds and diseases. Ag biologicals have become an important part of the farmer’s toolbox as farmers globally are challenged to produce more with less in a sustainable way.
For example, when soybeans are planted, they are dependent on moisture, nutrients and soil temperature. Novozymes’ microbial product (Optimize®) contains a molecule that is present at the time of planting and allows for the nodulation process to begin, independent of soil and environmental conditions. The benefit is enhanced nutrient capabilities, which supports root and shoot growth; the result of this early-season activity is better plant performance.
Margaret: Your biological solutions are cutting edge and represent the exciting potential for more sustainable agriculture systems. How are you advancing and scaling up these innovations?
Colin: Novozymes has joined with Monsanto to create the BioAg Alliance, a partnership that brings together our respective strengths in agricultural innovation and microbiology. Novozymes’ strengths in discovering, developing and producing microbes combined with Monsanto’s ability to field test and market is a natural, long-term alliance that will increase productivity of the world’s crops. I serve as a member of the Monsanto and Novozymes BioAg Alliance board of directors.
Margaret: Novozymes has been a global pioneer in sustainability practices. Tell us a bit about this history. What are some of the tools you use to document sustainable practices for your customers?
Colin: Novozymes has been providing biosolutions for more than 60 years, before the terms “sustainability” or “green products” started to catch on. We took pride in the fact that our products helped increase raw material efficiency and reduce energy consumption in factories around the world.
Now we can actually measure how our biosolutions contribute to more sustainable business practices. We use LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) studies to assess the environmental impacts of our solutions covering the entire life cycle – from raw material extraction, through production, use, and transport, to final disposal or recycling.
We are very proud that Novozymes has topped the Dow Jones Sustainability Index 12 times and, in 2014, was recognized by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) as a world leader for corporate action on climate change. In 2013, our customers reduced their CO2 emissions by 52 million tons through the application of Novozymes’ products, equivalent to taking 20 million cars off the road.
Margaret: GHI emphasizes the importance of sustainable agricultural value chains that conserve natural resources, adapt to climate change and consumer preferences, and improve people’s lives and livelihoods. From your perspective, what is the critical role that the private sector plays to conserve, adapt and improve?
Colin: We’re hearing more discussion globally about the relationship between agriculture and security. Countries whose families are fed and where producers’ livelihoods are secure, are less likely to experience conflict. That’s a huge opportunity for our industry. It puts us in the position where agriculture not only feeds nations but helps keep them safe.
To find those solutions, we must keep investing in research and development. The molecular tools we have to work with have increased greatly in the last decade. We can answer questions we couldn’t answer 20 years ago – but there is so much more for us to learn.
The private sector also has a responsibility to educate consumers and policymakers alike about how these technologies are improving their lives. If we don’t explain our technology and its societal benefits, we’ll continue to see those who don’t completely understand the science define it for us. It’s critical that we – companies, scientists and governments working together – provide compelling examples of how these innovations benefit consumers and society.
Margaret: One of GHI’s key policy priorities is to ensure greater investments in public research and development in agriculture (AG R&D) as well as to develop innovative public-private partnerships for AG R&D. From the perspective of Novozymes, why is investing in public AG R&D such a key foundation to sustainably feeding the world?
Colin: Feeding the world is too big a job for one player. Government, like academia, NGOs and the private sector, needs partners to achieve its goals. We believe our government partners can fulfill two crucial roles: supporting innovation and education.
Companies like Novozymes want to innovate. But innovations like drought-resistant crops take time, trial-and-error and testing. When government advances innovation with stable policies and reduces barriers for innovation, it can make the difference between technology getting to farmers or being shelved.
Education is also critical. Governments have a responsibility to ensure that citizens and policymakers understand the benefits of science in our everyday lives. One way to do this it to educate people about how our sector’s work is helping increase food supplies and farm income, and improving land use. Government is in a position to make sure science is understood by farmers and the general public, leading to its acceptance and resulting in benefits for farmers, consumers and the environment.
We look forward to working together with the Global Harvest Initiative to advance greater understanding of bioinnovation in agriculture as part of a strategy to sustainably provide the food, feed, fiber and fuel needed in the coming years.