Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Paul Schickler, DuPont Pioneer president, said there’s no doubt that grand challenges face production agriculture in the future to meet the needs of an expanding global population.
“The challenge is significant and you could say overwhelming,” Schickler said in a recent visit to Texas A&M University, prior to speaking to students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as part of the Blue Bell Lecture Series.
To meet these challenges, Schickler said it will require the use of “all capabilities when it comes to modern science, technology, people and policy. All of them will have to come together.”
It is projected that there will be 2 billion more people to feed globally in the coming decades and the challenge lies in the hands of students of agriculture.
“It’s up to them and they need to be part of this,” he said. “What we need is their enthusiasm and commitment not only dedicated to the field of agriculture, but getting others interested.”
Schickler said students need to “open up their eyes” and broaden their interests of study.
“They may have an academic area they are focused upon or a hobby they have been focused upon. That’s great. But they need to look a bit more broadly,” he said. “Maybe take a double major or at least get interested in some other aspect of agricultural food science so that you’ve got different perspectives.”
He said it might even be as simple as, ‘I’m going to focus on plant improvement in rice,’ but take a foreign science to go with it, or molecular biology with a computer background. Those kind of combinations are great.”
Schickler said there’s not a better combination than an agriculture background with an international business interest. He said students or individuals interested in pursuing a career in agriculture should consider “broadening their lens.”
“It’s the same for DuPont Pioneer,” he said. “We need skills across the spectrum – we need marketing and sales people. We need agronomists, biologists, pathologists; we need patent experts, financial experts – any career whether agriculture or food science or traditional disciplines, we need all of them. And all of those careers can find a home in agricultural and food production.”
Schickler said DuPont Pioneer continues to innovate and help farmers become more profitable. Issues such as drought and scarce water supplies continue to put stress on plant crops. That’s where the company continues to invest heavily in research experiments with cutting-edge varieties.
“Today we have ability to go after specific issues such as water and heat. On drought, a perfect example is the Texas Panhandle where it has undergone devastating drought. Subsoil moisture is nonexistent. As a result, cropping practices have changed, moving away from corn and going to sorghum or wheat.”
Schickler said through advanced breeding practices and other technologies, the company has been able to anticipate traits in a corn plant that can better adapt to stressful conditions such as drought.
Optimum AQUAmax corn hybrids were introduced by the company in 2010, expanded in 2011 and in 2012 some 2 million acres were planted, Schickler said. He noted it was a good time to be testing drought tolerance in a year like 2012.
“And they performed exceptionally well,” he said. “The yield was 9 percent better than the products they were tested or compared against. That’s a nice advantage for a farmer in a year like we just got through with, to get a 9 percent advantage by products tolerating drought.”
He said even under irrigation and adequate rainfall, they performed equally well, not giving up anything “even when conditions are favorable.”
He said the company will double acres to 5 million with the Optimum hybrid this year. The company’s development program is moving east in the heart of the Corn Belt and “applying the same technology there” as the concern over drought expands. Texas drought testing was done in Taft and in Plainview.
In all, 44 hybrids total will be sold under the Optimum Aquamax brand and will be taken to Europe.
In summary, Schickler said students of agriculture need to bring public awareness about the merits of agriculture and its critical implications to human life.
“For students studying agriculture, I say ‘spread the word’ about getting into this industry and how agriculture improves lives throughout the world,” he said.