Meeting the Growing Demand for Food with Monsanto’s Michael Doane

December 13, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Michael Doane. He’s the Vice President of Sustainable Agricultural Policy at Monsanto, the great brand Monsanto. Welcome to Green is Good, Michael. MICHAEL DOANE: Hey, John. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, Michael, before we get talking about Monsanto, talk a little bit about Michael Doane. How did you even end up in this position? Talk a little bit about your journey first. MICHAEL DOANE: Sure. Well you know, I grew up on a farm in western Kansas, and so farming and agriculture and the environment was always something that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved with and honestly, I thought I’d be a farmer and I went off to college and did my studies and an opportunity that presented itself was to actually work for one of the leading ag companies and that was Monsanto and so now, I probably didn’t originally think that I’d be now 15 years into a career with Monsanto but it’s been a wonderful ride and I’ve had an opportunity to work on product development, lead some business teams, and now I’m leading our sustainability programs at Monsanto so it’s been a wonderful journey. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful, and for our listeners out there that want to follow along as Michael shares what’s going on at Monsanto, you can go to www.sustainability.monsanto.com. Michael, what does sustainability in agriculture really mean? MICHAEL DOANE: Well, that’s a great question and the definitions on that vary, but the way we’ve codified it at Monsanto and the way that we engage with partners and others is we really about five years ago, talked to a lot of experts and after a couple years of listening and engaging, came up with three priorities that I think really match most of the definitions you see there, which is we all depend on agriculture to produce enough food, the right kind of food for a growing population and so that’s the first thing that we need from agriculture is meeting the growing demand for food and it’s not just any kind of food. It’s the kind of food that people will want and need in the future. The second thing is doing that in a way that conserves the underlying resource base; the water, the energy, the land resources. Agriculture is, simply put, our biggest single interaction with the environment and so future generations will need that resource base to be conserved even as we grow the amount of food that we’re producing each and every year and the final thing is producing more, conserving more, while also improving lives. It’s kind of hard to believe but there’s a billion people around the world that are somehow involved in agriculture and food production. It’s the second-largest employer of people around the world after the service sector is actually agriculture, and so a way that we can move people out of poverty, reduce hunger, improve livelihoods at scale is by improving agriculture so we’ve shortened it up to improving agriculture to improve lives. It’s really a people centered strategy but it’s focused on that continuous improvement that we need from agriculture so that future generations have a more certain future. That’s what we’re focused on. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Michael, is sustainable agriculture and sustainable farming a new paradigm or has this been around since time memorial just was never called that? MICHAEL DOANE: Well, I think it’s always been at the heart of the way farmers think about their task. Certainly if you go back into the annuls of history and look at how agriculture has occurred, first of all, civilization didn’t really take off until agriculture got more efficient and 10,000 years ago we started formally moving from the hunter gatherer societies to actually cultivating landscapes and that’s when societies started to move ahead and they were able to take the resources that were only able to be focused on kind of preservation of the species, producing enough food to survive, and it unlocked all the cultural things that we now take for granted, the arts, the humanities, all those things grew out of the fact that we got more efficient with agriculture. As that’s occurred in the last few hundred years, we’ve seen a tremendous number of changes. Where today we’re producing the food for the planet on about one-tenth of the land mass that it took to produce those requirements just 150 years ago and that’s the continuum that we need to be on going into the future. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, let’s talk about Monsanto. How is sustainability defined at Monsanto and where exactly are you in the sustainability journey? MICHAEL DOANE: Well, we really see ourselves first and foremost as an agriculture company. Our goal is to serve farmers and we serve farmers all around the world and farmers need to control a lot of the pests that regularly come in and consumer their crops so we are fundamentally focused on helping farmers in very practical ways control pests, manage their crops so that they’re more resistant to the stress from heat, from drought, from things like the and so we are very focused on serving farmers and delivering solutions to farmers that help farmers really enable sustainable agriculture so that’s first and foremost in our thinking. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, and talk a little bit about I’m on your great website, Sustainability.monsanto.com. There’s so much on this and you’re so transparent with all that you’re doing. Talk about some of the key concepts that you’re excited about that encompass the sustainability journey that Monsanto is continuing to go on. MICHAEL DOANE: Well, one of our wonderful partners is Conservation International and they’ve been doing conservation work for a long time, going into these hot spot areas where the agricultural expansion, whereas we produce more food, there’s a requirement to expand into new areas and so forth. They’ve really done some of the best thinking on how to enable productivity, how to help farmers produce more on the existing landscape without having agriculture expand into areas where that habitat conservation is very important and so we’ve been working with Conservation International in Brazil for the past five years and Brazil has really changed, I think, in a fairly short period of time. It’s a breadbasket to the world. As you’ve got growing demand for soybeans, for corn, for a lot of the things that can be produced at larger scale in Brazil, there’s a national incentive to see those areas expand and Conservation International and us have worked together to think about how can we preserve the forest corridors? How can we actually tie together some of these corridors in ways that really help farmers farm the land that’s best to be farmed but also preserve the most critical habitat and so that’s one example that we’re very proud of is our work with Conservation International. In Africa, we’ve been working with The Gates Foundation and a number of other development partners to bring the benefit of some high producing seeds that farmers in the U.S. and other places are using that resist drought pressure. We’ve been bringing that to farmers in east Africa and we’re very excited that we’re going to be introducing in 2013 a whole new line of hybrids, some corn lines that are resistant to drought, and in east Africa, drought is the number one cause of famine and so this is something that can really impact people’s lives. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Again, for our listeners out there that want to see everything that Monsanto is doing and their journey in sustainability, it’s sustainability.monsanto.com. The 2012 sustainability report is online here and again, my hat’s off to you, Michael, because transparency has become one of the basic key tenets of good governance now and so your corporate responsibility and sustainability report is here. Talk a little bit about what makes you the proudest about this report. What are some of the key highlights in it and what should we be looking for when we go and look at it online? I’m on it right now and first of all, it’s visually gorgeous and second of all, it has massive amounts of information. Talk about what gets you excited about this report and what you’re most proud of about it. MICHAEL DOANE: Well, I think five years ago, we really articulated an agenda and that agenda is we’re tracking progress so we do have very specific goals and I think that’s one strategy that a number of companies have taken on and we’ve taken on to really ensure that we are very consistently measuring progress to some stated long term objectives and so we’ve done that and we’re reporting that with kind of five years into our journey, how are we doing? And one of the things that I’m actually the proudest of, John, is that it’s not all perfect and I think that’s just reality. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No journey ever is, right? No journey ever is, right. MICHAEL DOANE: There’s been a few setbacks and so we’ve just very candidly, very honestly, shared both our progress and the places where we are challenged around some of the goals that we’ve set. I think the second thing that I’m proud of that the organization has really taken on is that every company, I think, struggles with this idea of is this really the company’s vision, where it’s broadly acknowledged and the ownership is distributed across the company or is this narrowly owned within one department of the company and over the past couple of years, we’ve really worked hard to broaden the ownership of this agenda within Monsanto. We established something called The Sustainability Strategy Council so we’ve got 25 decision makers, senior leaders at Monsanto, that every six to eight weeks sit down and review comprehensively what this agenda is and what it means for the company so we’ve got strong ownership within the company that drives these strategies down through the organization to make sure that we’re harnessing the real resources of the company so this is not the OR agenda. This is really about the way we’re going to do business going forward. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, it’s not from the top down anymore. It’s the bottom up. You get everybody engaged and that way, it’s not just one, like you said, limited narrow champion just pushing this agenda. It’s the whole company. MICHAEL DOANE: That’s right and I think that’s the key to success for us. We’re going to spend resources on research and development. We’re going to spend resources on going out and serving those customers and what we’re trying to focus on is making sure that we embed this thinking about sustainability and the way that we allocate those resources so that our employees understand this is a top priority and the wonderful thing for us on that is our employees love it. We have a lot of employees that identify deeply with the mission of improving agriculture to improve lives and for them to make this very tangible on a part of their day job, they’re frankly just demanding that and so this has been a way to make that happen. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. We’re down to the last minute and a half or so, Michael. Where is Monsanto going with regards to their journey and where does the future lie? MICHAEL DOANE: Well, I think that one of the most important things that we’ve heard from people that we’ve been talking to is the understanding that food is a really important topic for a lot of people and producing enough food is imperative. there’s still today close to a billion people that go to bed hungry and the statistics are just shocking and so we absolutely need to stay committed to producing enough food to make sure that there’s a quality, that people have enough calories to sustain human development, especially early in life, but the other thing that we’ve heard is it’s not just about enough food. It’s better food and what we also see around the world is inequality in terms of being able to get the best food. It’s also the most affordable food and I think that’s a long term strategy but it’s something we can actually do something about. We can actually improve the food in its composition so that it’s healthier and it’s more affordable and that’s something that’s a big idea that’s going to take a lot of leaning in to. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, we love that idea and we love that Monsanto’s improving agriculture and improving lives. Go go www.sustainability.monsanto.com. Michael Doane, you are an inspiring agricultural leader and truly living proof that green is good. MICHAEL DOANE: Thanks, John.