CONVENTION UPDATE: GLEANING PROFITS FROM DROUGHT-SMITTEN FIELDS

The Value Proposition for Next-Generation Energy Crops:  Value Chain and Business Model Considerations
By Val Giddings

Food & Ag sessions got off to an interesting start on Tuesday as three companies told their very different tales of sailing turbulent economic waters over the past two  years in search of profitable harbors. 

With oil at $140/barrel, it looked like a game almost anybody could play.  With oil at $50/barrel things are a lot more competitive. 

Mike Edgerton (Monsanto) described the very different economics and logistics related to corn stover feedstocks.  A much less mature sector, with 2 million producers (as opposed to ~400 for cane in Brasil) makes vertical integration much more complicated and challenging for stover. Calculating how much organic material can be used for biomass fuel without damaging soil carbon or exacerbating erosion and water quality is a delicate and variable calculus.  But with due attention to the myriad variables and disciplined analysis, both corn stover and cane can sustain profitable enterprises – particularly for the sellers of improved germplasm!  

Jack Kiser (Sustainable Oils) described a very different approach, working with Camelina sativa, an oilseed related to canola.  High in omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated oils, Camelina oil can be used to produce biodiesel while the meal can be used for animal feed.  Although transgenics promise numerous opportunities for improvement, classical and mutation breeding have so far barely been used, by no means fully harnessed.  

Take home message from the session:  competition is stiff and success is complicated, but there are many possible paths to a green future.

Giddings is a genetics PhD and  biotech consultant with nearly 30 years regulatory, media, and policy experience.  He was a Vice President for BIO Food & Agriculture from 1997 to 2006. He can be reached at LVG@prometheusAB.com.

 

CONVENTION UPDATE: Focus is on Yields, Technology and Supportive Policy Environment to Meet Food & Fuel Demands

By Val Giddings

When Joachim Schneider (Head of Life Sciences for Bayer Crop Science and BIO’s new Chairman for Food & Ad) opened the panel on “Agricultural Production:  Meeting the Sustainability Challenge,” he made it clear that today’s challenge is to increase productivity and while dealing with climate change. 

Will future production keep pace with demand?  How can we meet food and fuel challenges?

“We need to marry global science with global scale to produce global increases in yield,” says

John Pierce of Du Pont Life Sciences.  DuPont/Pioneer thinks yields will need to increase no less than 40 percent over the next 10 years for both corn and soybeans.

We need a second green revolution.  We need government, society, industry and academia to work together, and we need to use all technologies available.  Biotech is an essential tool in the toolbox.

Biotech presents the greatest opportunity to improve crop yields in Africa, Brazil, East and Southern Asian.  But biotech acceptance must remain a global effort.  Global food security remains an objective, not an accomplishment.

For biofuels production, the United States has an advantage in land area and technology.

The next generation of biofuels will improve existing ethanol production by increasing feedstocks yields.  New fuels (including cellulosics, advanced cellulosic from corn stover and switchgrass) will improve performance.  And technological- driven improvements will help increase crop yields.  We’ll see massive improvements over the next five years, and we’ll need predictable policy to ensure progress.

Giddings is a genetics PhD and  biotech consultant with nearly 30 years regulatory, media, and policy experience.  He was a Vice President for BIO Food & Agriculture from 1997 to 2006. He can be reached at LVG@prometheusAB.com.