The Future of Corporate Agriculture

By Sandy K. Johnson

Farmers are roiled by the Trump administration tariffs – and none more so than the producers of dominant crops such as corn and soybeans.

Those also happen to be a main focus of corporations like Bayer, the ag giant that in 2018 completed an acquisition of Monsanto Co. and now anxiously monitors the impact of trade wars on its customers.

“It’s too early to call winners and losers,” said Brett Begemann, chief operating officer of Bayer Crop Science. But he said the tariffs are “highly disruptive” to the supply and distribution chains. He said the markets – and farmers – are trying to “adjust for risk and noise.”

Begemann spoke to National Press Foundation fellows just one month after the merger of Bayer and Monsanto was finally sealed after a two-year process begun in 2016. Begemann, who worked for Monsanto for 35 years, is now a Bayer employee.

Bayer now owns arguably the most controversial herbicide in the world, Roundup (glyphosate), which had become synonymous with Monsanto’s brand. Begemann said the chemical will not be mothballed. “Roundup is vastly important to farmers,” he said, citing the 800 scientific studies showing no negative health impacts. “Science will prevail.”

(In August, a California jury awarded a former school groundskeeper $289 million in damages for cancer he claimed was caused by Roundup.)

In 2013, Monsanto bought Silicon Valley startup Climate Corporation to move deeper into precision agriculture and give farmers top-notch digital tools to analyze their farm practices. Farmers today use satellites, drones, autonomous vehicles and sensors to track and analyze data in real time. A single smart device can connect all those tools.

Mark Young, chief technology officer, has since developed Climate FieldView, a sort of one-stop-shop digital toolbox for a farmer to maximize productivity from spring planting to harvest.

NPF journalists were shown the value of the tool by zeroing in on a single 122-acre cornfield. Yields in various spots of the field ranged from a high of 290 bushels per acre to 220 bushels. The farmer who owns the field obviously wanted to know how to get the most profitable yields across the entire field. Through the use of satellite imagery and historical data and analysis, Climate FieldView gave the farmer clarity on what might work in coming years.

This sophisticated data isn’t free. Farmers pay a $1,000 annual subscription; for deeper data, they pay a per-acre fee. It has 100,000 customers in the U.S.

This program is funded by Bayer. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

Subscribe on YouTube
More Presentations
Help Make Good Journalists Better
Donate to the National Press Foundation to help us keep journalists informed on the issues that matter most.