Innovation in agriculture comes in many forms – seed, crop protection or fertilizer products, equipment, digital technologies, and new approaches or management practices on farms and in distribution chains. All of these and more will be necessary to address the climate challenge facing our planet while providing an affordable, nutritious supply of food for a growing population.
While the challenges ahead are significant, Sam Eathington, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Digital Officer at Corteva Agriscience, sees the opportunity for agriculture to lead the way in addressing them.
The reality is agriculture has already established itself as a viable, scalable and fast-acting solution to climate change. Farmers have been working to meet the changing needs of the planet for years – they are the original stewards of the land – and in many cases, they’re doing it with increased yields and profitability. However, they need more tools and innovation so they can address current and future challenges as well as continue making a positive impact on our planet.
“It will take innovation at every step from R&D of new products to on-farm practices to meet global needs,” he said. “It is vitally important that we find new approaches to advance economically and environmentally sustainable ways to produce food.”
Eathington has seen the impact and potential of ag advancements from several perspectives. From growing up on an Illinois farm that his family still owns and operates to working as a plant breeder to now leading Corteva’s global Research & Development organization, including seed and crop protection pipelines, as well as the company’s digital strategy. He serves on the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board’s Iowa Innovation Council and was appointed to Governor Kim Reynolds’ Task Force on Carbon Sequestration.
Corteva leads in seed, crop protection and digital technologies
Corteva was launched in 2019 after spinning out from DowDuPont to become a standalone company. Today, it is one of the largest U.S.-based companies entirely focused on agriculture, bringing together leadership in seeds, crop protection and digital technologies. The company has more than 3,000 employees in Iowa, with a global business center in Johnston, and research and seed production facilities across the state.
“It is exciting and inspiring to come to work every day knowing every one of the 21,000 colleagues around the world are all focused on the same ultimate goal of helping the world’s farmers meet their productivity and sustainability goals,” he said.
Eathington cited a number of innovations from Corteva that are helping farmers increase productivity and sustainability, including Enlist E3 soybeans1, new crop protection products with lower use rates and digital advancements to help with seed and product placement efficiency. In addition, the Corteva Carbon Initiative rewards farmers for implementing sustainable practices.
Innovative plant breeding technologies
Innovative technologies in plant breeding have allowed researchers to develop higher yielding crops with traits that deliver specific benefits to farms and geographic areas, said Eathington. In corn production, yield improvements over the last century have increased productivity from an average of 25 bushels per acre to 170 bushels per acre. The millions of additional bushels of grain grown on North American farms through yield improvements have enabled farmers to grow more with less land, without putting a corresponding number of acres into agricultural production.
“Today we are using DNA analysis on every plant in our research program. From that DNA profile, we can make predictions on traits and performance that is tested in the field,” he said. “We are able to use drones to collect field data that is higher quality and provides more research data and characteristics than we are able to collect with people walking fields throughout the season.”
He sees gene editing as the next advancement that will transform plant breeding and the ability to extract the genetic variation in crop production to bring more traits and solutions to farmers. Genetically modified and gene edited crops play a critical role in boosting climate-smart agriculture and sustainable food systems. In addition, the technologies enable development of crops that are more nutritious and more resistant to pests, diseases and drought.
Advantageous presence in Iowa
The company’s extensive presence in Iowa provides an advantage for both developing and testing innovations in agriculture.
“In Iowa we have not only our own world-leading research, development and testing facilities, but are also able to collaborate with students and professors at a leading research university, progressive farmers and retail partners, and a growing network of agricultural startup and scaleup companies that are bringing new and exciting technologies to market,” he said.
Published June 2022.