The world’s agricultural industry has a tall order to fill—it must grow twice as much on roughly the same footprint with less water all by 2050.
Monsanto (MON) CEO Hugh Grant, calling himself a “Scottish optimist—a rare condition,” thinks we can get there, but “not on our own, despite some of the coverage.”
“It’s very unfortunate that there’s such a polarized debate—big, small, fast, slow,” he said at Fortune Brainstorm E on Tuesday. “We’re going to need all hands on deck to solve this.”
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Part of the problem, he noted, is that only 2% of the population is involved in agriculture. The food industry, therefore, needs to do a better job explaining of where food comes from.
He also suggested that while some millennials are adverse to Monsanto and GMOs, nearly half of the 20,000-employee organization has been with the company for less than five years. “We have an enormous community of millennials, and they’re there because they want to be there,” he said. If you’re interested in plant biology, the “party is at Monsanto,” he added.
Monsanto’s strategy to help farmers meet demand targets includes bringing together a better use of data and a more precise use of chemicals. “We’re going to have a much more precise use of inputs, so as we double the amount of food, we’re using a lot less stuff,” he said. To help with the data piece, Monsanto bought San Francisco-based startup Climate Corp. in 2013.
Monsanto’s CEO Addresses Rumors of an Acquisition By BASF
To expand its chemical business, Monsanto also tried to buy Syngenta last year. Syngenta ultimately rebuffed its advances and instead went with ChemChina. Last week, news outlets reported that BASF and Bayer were exploring separate possible bids for Monsanto. Grant called the reports the “rumor du jour” and said he wasn’t going to comment or speculate on rumors.
Asked by Fortune editor Alan Murray which presidential candidate he thought would be better for the company, Grant said he “had enough controversy” without answering the question.
But he did note that through it takes Monsanto about seven years to breed a new hybrid through its conventional breeding program. “That’s about the fastest thing we have to do,” he said. “That’s two four-year terms. We have to look through the commodity cycle and the political cycle.”