Regenerative Agriculture Can Make Every Day World Food Day

October 2022, by Erik Fyrwald

The U.N. recently observed World Food Day. But the challenge of feeding the world while preserving the earth is something we all need to think about every day of the year. 

Over the past two years, we have seen first-hand that our ability to feed the world cannot be taken for granted. The pandemic, geopolitical conflicts, supply chain disruptions and extreme weather have collided to produce shocking results: Food shortages. Empty shelves. Skyrocketing prices.

For the millions of farmers at the center of these challenges, it has never been harder to break even—let alone earn a living—from working the land. At the same time, agriculture generates a substantial portion of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The current state of conventional farming is clearly unsustainable. But at Syngenta Group, we believe there is a sustainable way forward: an approach known as Regenerative Agriculture. This approach uses innovative technologies to help farmers increase their productivity and profitability while preserving our natural environment.

A vicious cycle and a way out

Growers today are contending with massive insect swarms, longer droughts and more intense floods in places like China, Europe and North America—afflictions stemming from climate change. And these growers are confronting these challenges with their hands tied behind their backs, as policymakers and regulators disconnected from the daily challenges of farming make decisions that limit farmers’ access to the powerful tools that have been developed specifically to help them succeed.

Restrictive policies like these may be intended to protect the environment. But because they are short-sighted and seldom driven by science, they compound the problems they were intended to solve. 

When we simply deny farmers access to modern herbicides, for example, they are forced to aggressively plow their soil to eliminate weeds. This increases erosion and undermines soil health. When soil health is degraded, people begin to look for new farmland. This leads to deforestation—creating a downward spiral in which misguided efforts to preserve the environment end up accelerating climate change.

Regenerative Agriculture offers a way out of this vicious cycle. 

Field of soybeans
Soybeans, still maturing, grow alongside wheat that is ready for harvesting.

Innovation and Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture focuses on nurturing and restoring the health of our soils. Practices associated with it include no-till farming, cover-cropping, managed grazing, conservation buffers, agroforestry and “precision agriculture”—the use of cutting-edge technology to optimize and minimize biological and chemical inputs.

Together, these techniques can limit erosion, enhance biodiversity, make crops more resilient to weather extremes and improve their ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store, or sequester, it in the soil. 

But Regenerative Agriculture is a journey. As today’s farmers make the transition, they may need to taper off their use of synthetic crop protection products over several growing seasons. Instead of banning products that are currently available, we need to focus on long-term success by equipping farmers with new products and technologies.

Harvester processing field
Planting the next crop between rows of harvested no-till wheat.

Speeding the transition

Syngenta Group has one of the strongest innovation pipelines in the industry, investing approximately $2 billion in research and development every year. These days, we are focused on developing innovations that can enable farmers to speed their transition to Regenerative Agriculture and practice it at scale. 

Interra Scan, one such innovation, is a high-resolution soil-mapping service that uses more than 800 data points to give farmers a thorough understanding of their soil. By providing farmers with detailed insight into their soil’s texture, nutrient content and carbon content, Interra Scan allows them to optimize nutrition and carbon capture while minimizing chemical inputs.

We are also developing innovative seed varieties that require fewer pesticides and allow plants to withstand pressure from pests and diseases, as well as crop protection products that allow farmers to do more with less. Our Hyvido hybrid barley seeds, for example, make better use of the nitrogen in the soil, produce higher yields and improve drought resilience. And Calaris, an improved corn herbicide, requires one-third the amount of chemicals required per acre, compared to traditional corn herbicides. 

Innovations like these are specifically designed to make Regenerative Agriculture practical and profitable for farmers. 

Modern agriculture is riddled with challenges. But by developing innovations and policies that support farmers in the transition to Regenerative Agriculture, we can ensure a future in which farming feeds the world while preserving the earth.

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