The Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture
Imagine a world where it didn’t rain for an entire year. Not a single drop. Now imagine not only having to support 38 million people from such little rainfall but also having to grow enough crops to support that population. Not only does this seem to be a situation that business would struggle to be profitable but one that is an extremely undesirable outcome. However, I argue that there are companies that are not only positioned to survive a more widespread apocalyptic scenario but to thrive! The place I described is a part of California over the past several years. The company that I argue is looking to profit from this? Monsanto.
Climate change has started to impact the US. Looking at California shows a bleak situation: according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, 46% of the state is under the most extreme drought category while 97% of the state is experiencing some degree of drought (see below)– something not seen in over 1,200 years.
So what does it look like? It looks like the before & after photo shown below.
The drought of CA is having immense impact, but who is Monsanto and where do they fit into this?
Who is Monsanto and What Role Do They Play?
Monsanto is a agriculture company that delivers agricultural products that support farmers worldwide. Monsanto’s products include high-yielding conventional and biotech agricultural seeds, advanced traits & technologies that enable more nutritious and durable crops and safe & effective crop protection solutions. Essentially, Monsanto profits by selling different agricultural seeds to farmers who then plant them, harvest them and sell the food products to various parties that eventually reach my table, your table and millions of other’s tables.
Climate change would appear to have a potentially significant negative impact on Monsanto – they can’t sell seeds that a farmer can’t grow a crop if there’s no water, right? Not quite. Part of the definition of “high-yielding conventional and biotech agricultural seeds” is that they are genetically modified (GMO) to be able to produce crops despite unfavorable conditions – highly scarce water or extreme heat, shown below.
Monsanto’s Reaction to Climate Change
This brings us to how Monsanto is reacting to the continued impact of climate change. According to Monsanto, they are implementing a strategy to address the continued impact of climate change. This includes: “collaborating with others to advance climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture” by developing GMO seeds which utilize ~8% less of water (via lessened water loss through transpiration and higher efficiency) and/or can survive temperature increases of 3-4 degrees Celsius. As climate change worsens, their portfolio continues to transform to more efficient crops, as mentioned above. This brings the company to shift R&D from focusing efforts on increasing yields on crops, to focusing efforts on increasing the resistance of commercial crops (corn, wheat) in expectation of more extreme environmental conditions. Consequently, they implicitly rely on continued and worsened climate change to profit more from this new generation of seed as their portfolio shifts.
A Question of Ethics
The GMOs that Monsanto produces have unknown and potentially dangerous long-term side effects including potential to cause stronger antibiotic resistance. Given this uncertainty, Monsanto’s continued crusade for widespread GMO usage and acceptance by both the American public and the globe should be met with fierce questioning. More critically, one must wonder: “is it right that Monsanto profits as the world’s condition continues to degrade? Should Monsanto focus more on developing alternative methods to increase crop yields rather than reliance on GMOs? Other mechanisms such as microbiomes offer natural ways to improve yield, without the downsides that GMOs may bring. It is important for people to understand this is a situation that society faces and question the ethics of such profit.
Thanks for reading!
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For more information on GMO crops, watch this video from Scientific American:
 A crop yield is a measurement of the amount of a crop that was harvested per unit of land area. Crop yield is the measurement often used for a cereal, grain or legume and is normally measured in metric tons per hectare (or kilograms per hectare).
 According to the WHO, “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”
 Climate change impacts crop yield while population increases – a perfect storm for food security, globally
 Microbiomes are communities of microbes — microscopic organisms so tiny that millions of them can fit onto the head of a pin.
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