Delivering Sustainable Progress and Profitability for Farmers on a Warming Planet

Nov 29, 2016 8:30 AM ET

Adapted from comments made by Dawn Rittenhouse, DuPont director of sustainability, at a side event hosted by DuPont, One Acre, and Farm Journal at the 2016 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue on October 13th, 2016. 

Farmers have always had the challenge of variable weather patterns.  A year that delivers rich yields can give way to a drought the next year.  Now, farmers must also contend with climate change, which is in some parts of the world adding to the severity of short-term weather extremes while also facilitating a wholesale shift in climate patterns.  Add to this a rapidly growing global population that requires access to a safe and nutritious diet and it is easy to understand why conservation agriculture and sustainability are vital to the success of modern farming. 

In 2009, DuPont took a step back to look forward into the future.  We assessed the long-term global challenges facing the planet and mapped our core competencies and technologies to those challenges where we could provide solutions.  The result was a focus on three areas – how to feed the 9 billion people expected by 2050, how to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and how to protect people and the environment.  Today, many of our innovative capabilities are focused not just on the challenges of farmers described above, but on making our global food system more sustainable and accessible for everyone. 

For example, Pioneer® brand Optimum® AQUAmax® hybrid corn seeds help farmers build resiliency in their crop and maintain higher yields in most growing conditions, including droughts.  Farmers don’t just need more flexible seeds; they also need tools that enable the most efficient and timely application of their resources.  Encirca services is designed to do just that.  This decision support tool helps to provide laser-focused guidance on the best time for farmers to make decisions about their crop.  For example, Encirca services can let farmers known when and where their crops need fertilizer, reducing over-application as well as run-off.   

Climate change also is bringing new pest pressures to farms.  DuPont™ Rynaxapyr®, a low-use pesticide that requires fewer sprays than conventional pesticides, was developed to help solve this challenge. Rynaxapyr® reduces the number of trips farmers must make through their field and ultimately reduces energy use and soil compaction.  We also support farmers with DuPont™ Evalio® AgroSystems, a real-time pest monitoring system that lets farmers know what type of pest is coming and when so that they can apply pesticides exactly when and where they are needed.  Initial tests of this system have demonstrated improved yields, lower costs, and reductions in water requirements and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Climate change isn’t the only reason farmers are adapting and evolving.  Global population growth and historic wealth distribution patterns means that hundreds of millions remain chronically malnourished.  While this represents an enormously complex challenge that won’t be solved by any one government or institution, there are practical innovations and collaborations that can help provide economical and sustainable means of providing more nutritious food to at-risk populations. 

For example, DuPont scientists and Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International researchers have been working to improve bio-fortification of sorghum to make vital nutrients more available.  Researchers found that increasing vitamin E and beta-carotene production in sorghum significantly improves the availability and longevity of beta-carotene, which the human body converts to vitamin A.  This could be especially meaningful for areas like Sub-Saharan Africa, where the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency has remained high and unchanged since the early 1990’s.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, biofortified crops are already making a difference in Africa and Asia. These crops include beans, sweet potatoes, millet and maize, with increases in iron, zinc and vitamin A as the target micronutrients.

Finally, DuPont has extended its commitment to helping solve the global challenge of feeding the world beyond its strategic innovation capabilities.  In 2012, we set an ambitious set of Food Security Goals, part of our overall DuPont 2020 Sustainability Goals.  These goals were conceived in the spirit of “what gets measured gets done” and focus on innovating to feed the world, engaging and educating youth, and improving rural communities. 

The goals also underscore our engagement with broader global efforts such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build a more sustainable future for all.  Take the challenge of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture (SDG # 2) as example. DuPont has long applied our extensive resources and know-how to battling food insecurity, improving nutrition, increasing crop yields, protecting crops and ensuring the safety of the food supply from farm to fork.  Through our Food Security Goals, our involvement extends beyond market needs to boots-on-the-ground commitment to engaging young people and improving rural communities. 

DuPont was a sponsor of the session at the World Food Prize along with the Farm Journal Foundation and One Acre Fund.  Read more about DuPont’s long-term, sustainable solutions here.