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Learning from and working with Nature
|By Colin Bletsky, Vice President of BioAg, Novozymes and member of the GHI Board of Directors|
We need our agriculture sector to produce more food, and to produce it more efficiently.
These statements are simple, but they represent complex and daunting challenges. I grew up on a third-generation farm in Saskatchewan, growing canola, oats and wheat. I am born and bred a farm boy. And I know that dramatically increasing agricultural productivity will not be easy. We must figure out how to feed an unprecedented number of people around the world while dealing with a variety of climate change impacts.
To solve new challenges requires new ways of thinking – innovation. At Novozymes, we take that one step further. We believe in bio-innovation.
Bio-innovation means understanding the biology of our natural world, learning about nature’s efficiency and efficacy, and working with our partners to apply that knowledge to big challenges. We believe that nature holds many answers for more efficient processes.
For agriculture, that means working with tiny organisms that occur in the microbiome around a plant’s roots. In one tablespoon of soil, there are approximately 50 billion microbes. Some are beneficial, some are not. Finding the helpful ones is a daunting challenge but new methods of microbial discovery, fermentation technologies, DNA sequencing and analysis have now made it achievable.
Working together, Novozymes and Monsanto formed The BioAg Alliance in 2014 to identify beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil that will help farmers grow healthier and more resilient crops. Applied to seeds and plants, these microbes make crops better at taking up nutrients, withstanding drought and disease, or fighting a range of insects, mites and parasites.
Last week, The BioAg Alliance announced a new target that would significantly increase the number of acres treated with our microbes. Right now, our products are used on about 65 million acres. By 2025, the Alliance envisions that these products will be used on 250-500 million acres globally, equivalent to 25-50 percent of all U.S. farmland.
I’m still involved in farming a 6,000 acre operation, three hours from our offices in Saskatoon. I farm with some of my siblings – it’s in my blood. We also use a microbial product on our crops – JumpStart® – a soil microbe that releases bound forms of phosphate to plants.
In the coming years, the Alliance will deliver more of these solutions to farmers around the world, to produce more food with more efficiency than ever before.