Monsanto isn’t a name that many readers associate with the sustainability movement. With so much focus on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), discussions and news about its sustainability commitments and strategies often get passed up. But yesterday, as part of the 2014 Walmart Sustainability Expo, Monsanto’s CEO Hugh Grant announced two new sustainability commitments for the world’s largest agricultural chemical and biotech company. Rightfully, it believes that implementing new sustainability goals in the following two areas will not only help streamline its own overhead costs, but also contribute to U.S. and global efforts to conserve water and reduce carbon emissions.
With that in mind, Monsanto has set a goal of reducing its overall water usage by 25 percent by 2020. While it admits that water usage will vary according to seasonal weather patterns each year, the company said it believes it can reduce its water usage by between 30 billion and 89 billion gallons annually.
It will implement these changes not only on its owned and leased properties, but also on contract farms that grow the company’s seed products. One of the areas it said it will be making changes is in its irrigation methods. The company figures it can improve its water conservation by converting to drip irrigation, something it said it is already doing in resource-impacted areas like India, Mexico and Hawaii.
One question that was asked during the presentation was whether Monsanto’s “smarter seeds” will be engineered to allow growers to “reuse” the seeds, which would cut down on overhead for those farmers its sustainability efforts support.
Grant noted that one of the reasons reuse hasn’t been a characteristic of the company's product is that they believe using new, clean, fresh seeds improves maximum yield capacity and quality. He said a primary focus of the company is to develop seeds that have better drought tolerance, a real concern with climate change, according to the IPCC.
“I think if you look over the next five to 10 years, [there will be] better soil management; [there will be] better agronomics … And continuing to deliver better performing seeds to growers, that’s really the focus,” Grant said.
I also asked him whether Climate Corp., which Monsanto purchased last year, would be playing a role in the company’s sustainability goals. While Climate Corp. wasn’t headlined in this announcement, Monsanto said that it will play an instrumental role in tailoring water usage and crop management, two vital issues when dealing with day-by-day climate changes such as we have seen recently in agricultural areas.
“There’s tremendous opportunity ahead in this area,” Grant said.
Monsanto said it plans to update the public on a quarterly basis as it moves closer to meeting its 2020 sustainability goals.
Image of farmer in soybean field: United Soybean Board
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.