Cooperative board members gather to exchange ideas
In February, corporate board members of MFA Incorporated, Growmark, Southern States and Alabama Farmers Cooperative gathered for a leadership workshop sponsored by cooperative banking leader, CoBank. Participants spent a couple days in Columbia, Mo., discussing the challenges a modern cooperative board faces and gleaning insight into the new directions of the agriculture from guest speakers from the University of Missouri.
Joining the group as keynote speaker was Brett Begemann, Chief Commercial Officer at Monsanto. Begemann’s remarks focused on Monsanto’s commitment to double yield by 2030 and the challenges agriculture faces from finite resources, the public perspective of traditional agriculture and climate fluctuation. Begemann was straightforward in explaining his company’s focus toward that goal. Its R&D resources are pointed squarely at realistic advances in yield for customers of Monsanto corn, soybean and cotton seed. The company will use genetics to push plants toward additional yield, of course, but it will also breed plants that provide better protection against pests and better weed control.
For Monsanto to hit its goal, corn production in the prominent agricultural markets of Argentina, Brazil and the United States would need to reach a weighted average of 220 bushels per acre by 2030, compared to 109.1 bushels per acre in 2000. Soybean production in those countries would rise from a weighted average of 39.5 bushels per acre in 2000 to 79 bushels per acre in 2030. Cotton would increase from 1.4 bales (672 pounds) per acre to 2.8 bales (1,344 pounds) per acre. While seed companies like Monsanto may lead the charge in seed genetics, Begemann pointed out that suppliers like MFA and other cooperatives will be challenged with additional demand for plant food and other crop inputs. One aspect of Begemann’s address that holds promise for MFA is precision agriculture.
“The piece that is yet to be defined,” he said, “is precision agriculture. We haven’t touched the tip of this technology.” He added that a researcher at Monsanto believes there are an additional 50 bushels per acre to be added through precision technology. Begemann pointed out that current precision practices take advantage of shifting seed planting population on-the-go. He said if that worked, why wouldn’t we adjust row spacing, too? And why wouldn’t we change corn hybrids as we crossed a field to better match soil types? Begemann implied that these questions weren’t so much blue-sky thinking as something that is obtainable prior to Monsanto’s 2030 deadline.
As he reminded the crowd that Monsanto wasn’t the only company with plans to make great gains in crop yields, he asked another question that was out of Monsanto’s and all other seed companies’ purview: If they deliver on the tremendous yield increases they seem capable of, will the rural infrastructure that gets food from field to table be up to the challenge?
Leadership means keeping up
Aside from Bregemann’s address, participants in the event discussed the changing technology in agriculture and how company know-how needs to pass through generations of employees as more than mere information but rather knowledge that is ready for uptake by new employees. Group discussion focused on how effective owner/member boards select, retain and train their members. The event is sponsored by CoBank each year.