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Conversation with Monsanto’s Michael Doane

Marissa Rosen
| Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 | 16 Comments

Every Wednesday at 4pm Pacific (and every once in a while at other times) TriplePundit founder Nick Aster will take 45 minutes or so to chat with an interesting leader in the sustainable business movement.  These chats are broadcast on our Google+ channel and embedded via YouTube right here on 3p.

On Wednesday, October 23rd, Nick will talk with Michael Doane, Vice President of Sustainable Agriculture Policy at Monsanto.

In their words, Monsanto’s vision for sustainable agriculture “strives to meet the needs of a growing population, to protect and preserve this planet we all call home, and to help improve lives everywhere”. In 2008, Monsanto made a commitment to sustainable agriculture – pledging to produce more, conserve more, and improve farmers’ lives by 2030.

To join the conversation, the only thing you need to do is pop over to this page at 4pm PST and click “play.” No need to log into anything. However, if you want to ask questions, we’ll be taking Q&A via Twitter from the audience – just tweet to @triplepundit and we’ll incorporate your questions. If you miss the conversation, you’ll still be able to watch it later on YouTube.

About Michael

Michael Doane is vice president of sustainable agriculture policy for Monsanto Company. In this role, Michael is engaged with the food value chain on issues relating to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of agricultural production systems. Michael has been with Monsanto for 14 years in a variety of commercial business and policy development roles. He was raised on a diversified crop and livestock farm in Kansas. Prior to his work at Monsanto, he served as the executive director of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. He received a master’s degree in agricultural economics and a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from Kansas State University.

 


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  • Suzanne Pinckney

    I was disappointed there was no discussion of the elephant in the room. Monsanto’s business model requires inherently unsustainable practices for farmers: constantly buying new seed every year. How can there be such a thing as ‘sustainable agriculture’ if the seeds do not reproduce, require expensive pesticides, and poison the soil on which famers depend? What is sustainable about the 200,000 farmer suicides in India on this account?

    On the topic of drought resistant wheat, I noticed Michael is from Kansas and a wheat grower. It’s hard to have ‘drought resistant wheat’ and ‘Kansas’ in the same sentence and not mention The Land Institute’s successful propagation of perennialized wheat, the most drought resistant of any. But then again, any perennial plant is unsustainable to Monsanto’s business model because it gives farmers independence and control of their crops.

    I would expect these kinds of questions from a publication like Triple Pundit, with an understanding of the systems dynamics at play which go well beyond some partnerships and philanthropy.

    • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

      Suzanne, thanks for you input. This is a wildly complicated issue and we’ve barely begin to cover it. I didn’t want to get too deeply into this on our first conversation. I will however, encourage folks to respond to your comment here!

      • Rajat Kapur

        Susanne is totally right. If Monstanto wants to be called ‘sustainable’ – they they need to become more transparent.

        • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

          Agreed. Greater transparency is a key tenant of sustainability. We’ll be following up in time.

      • Nikki Florio

        @Nick….. I’d have to disagree. Monsanto has been an extraordinarily monstrous corporation which has ruined lives of farmers (domestic an foreign) with lies and lawsuits, and as well, has caused catastrophic damage ecologically (soils/insects/birds/bats/etc). The bio-pollution alone has irreversible consequences.

        • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

          You disagree that it’s complicated? or with something else? I’m not endorsing (or criticizing) anyone here, just working to open a dialogue. There are many legitimate critiques of agribusiness out there, but there’s also a lot of hyperbole…

  • Michael Doane

    Suzanne, thanks for tuning in for the Google Hangout. I appreciate your follow-up comments and questions. When Triple Pundit reached out and asked if I’d like to participate in last night’s Google Hangout, I was really excited about the opportunity because I knew it would allow me to further connect with others in the sustainability space.
    Since we were limited on time last night, I was only able to touch on some of many topics pertaining to our business and our work with farmers and partners in sustainable agriculture. I agree that there is alot more we could discuss.

    We have a number of resources available that address some of the concerns you’ve raised. First, there’s this site (http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/Issues-and-Answers.aspx), which provides answers to some of the questions we regularly receive. Your question about our business model and the benefits/choices it creates for farmers are addressed there.

    Also, I would point you to GMO Answers (http://gmoanswers.com/) – a fairly new initiative committed to responding to questions about how food is grown. This website is just the beginning of a new conversation among everyone who cares about how our food is grown.

    Being from Kansas, I am familiar with work of The Land Institute and some of the cutting edge ideas they have championed regarding perennial crop ecosystems. I’m also convinced that farmers will readily adopt any new management practice that can make them more productive and profitable — including perennial crops. We are certainly not opposed to the idea of perennial crops. In fact, we have a successful business model in alfalfa — a perennial crop that has been improved with biotechnology.

    I’d welcome the opportunity to have further conversations on how we’re working with farmers and partners to realize a vision for sustainable agriculture.

    • Larry

      Why has Monsanto spent millions trying to defeat initiative 522 which proposes to label food that has genetically modified ingredients? I want to know if the food I buy includes genetically modified crops. I find Monsanto’s approach a bully. Let the state of Washington label foods.

  • Mike Giotis

    Softball anyone? Sorry Nick, but is this a journalistic site, or a PR channel?

    Appropriate Q’s:

    As a sustainability professional, can you discuss what reasons other than pure profit that a technology as unknown and uncontrollable as GMO (e.g., windblown contamination)should be introduced to the market before PROVING that it is safe?

    Can you expand on the sustainability of an agricultural model that requires farmers to buy their seeds from your company year after year?

    In discussing your other successful partnerships, can you speak to the success of partnering with Blackwater to spy on activists and families concerned with the safety of your products?

    Do you personally believe that the “so called” Monsanto Protection Act should remain in place? Why or why not?

    • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

      Mike, duly noted. This was a very preliminary, get-to-know-you interview. This are all valid and good subjects for a follow up. We’ll get there!

  • Will

    Do you guys have any plans to have the sustainability directors from Academi, Lockheed Martin or other military defense contractors? It would be really interesting learn from them on how we can be have a more sustainable planet.

    • Will

      Other great sustainability interview suggestions: Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Koch Industries..

  • jenboynton

    Great feedback here. Thanks everyone for weighing in. Like them
    or not, big players like Monsanto aren’t going away any time soon. Monsanto in
    particular is an easy target for activist concerns and we hear them loud and
    clear. Of course, it would be easy to join that very noisy chorus.

    In general we at TriplePundit would rather actually engage
    individuals within organizations that are working to change them from the
    inside out than shout at them about how terrible they are. Believe it or not,
    there are people who are truly committed to sustainability within even the most
    “evil” organization (and, after lengthy study I wouldn’t even call
    Monsanto “evil” myself, but that’s a subject for a blog post of my
    own).

    We’d rather engage them and support them in their (very
    difficult) efforts to make sustainable change than make their jobs more
    difficult. We can either have a hardball interview which means we will never be
    offered one again, or we can work to build relationships with individuals so
    that we might actually influence their work down the line – and we choose the
    latter.

    • Will

      I do understand where you are coming from, Jen. Dialogue with those you disagree with is almost always better to have than not to have (almost). And of course no one is “evil”, but rather have differing views on the world. I would discourage anyone from ever using this language in this context as it is not productive.

      But it does seem to me that the one of the things that Triple Pundit should be responsible for as editors is to make a decision on who is relevant as sustainability thought leaders. If you have people within objectively and fundamentally unsustainable companies on your platform as sustainability leaders, you have to question their role within that organization.

      If you have someone from Exxon Mobil telling you they are in charge of helping to solve climate change when carbon is the actual problem and their entire business, you need to question why they have their job. Is it to play a political role in order for the companies to create diplomacy with disagreeable stakeholders to be able to continue their fundamentally unsustainable business model, or is it to solve real problems?

      I think this question needs to be closely examined in regards to Monsanto and agriculture.

      • Rocky T

        I can understand keeping Exxon at arm’s length with regards to taking them seriously on climate change, but what about Monsanto is a specific problem? And if so, on what? It’s a serious question – is it the business model? What evidence do we really have that this has caused harm? There’s a legitimate argument that biotech may be helpful with regards to increased uncertainty in agriculture brought on by climate change – not to mention producing biofuels, and so on….

        • Will

          I agree that biotech is important and can be helpful and sustainable. But I would argue that if you look specifically at Monsanto’s business and track record and not lump them in with biotech as an industry, there are a lot of reasons for concern.

          The business model is significant- aggressively applying the biotech licensing model to agriculture hurts farmers, destroys seed saving and just does not work the same as in pharma (where it is still a very questionable business model i might add). It does this in a way that does not give farmers a choice on whether they want to live in Monsanto’s world- where if your neighbor is using their seed, it spreads to you etc.. It is incredibly aggressive and the ethics are wildly questionable when you look at their litigation strategy alone.

          Roundup has been found to be harmful in various studies. It is probably better than other wide spectrum pesticides, but it is debatable by how much. Much of the safety information is still coming out in new research. Basically one of Monsanto’s biggest revenue sources is a pesticide. I have a hard to time calling that sustainable. Can you?

          They are responsible for some of the historically worst (for environmental and health) chemical products on the market. This includes agent orange derivatives rBGH growth hormone and PCBs (which still pollute rivers and other natural areas, such as the Hudson in New York, to this day). Monsanto is associated with 31 superfund sites designated by the EPA.

          Now they are branding themselves as “A Sustainable Agriculture Company”. I don’t know what kind of standards one needs to use for the meaning of ‘sustainable’ to buy into this. Even if half of this information is fabricated by overzealous environmentalist fear mongers (which there is not a lot of reason to believe is the case) I would be very very dubious of their sustainability claims.