It’s kind of bizarre when you think about it: agriculture is one of the few industries where technological innovation is looked at with suspicion. When it comes to things like health care, transportation, communication and energy, we openly embrace the power of human innovation.
But with agriculture, it’s a little different.
At the same time technologies like fertilizer, pesticides, advanced seed breeding and GMOs have increased the efficiency of food production around the world, a vocal minority of consumers have actually been clamoring for a big step backwards, toward an imagined (but not historically accurate) world in which food grew “organically,” without the aid of human technology.
OK, that’s not really such a big problem, is it? Well, not for the organic food industry, that’s for sure.
But at a time when science, technology and human ingenuity are sorely needed to address population growth and conservation of the world’s natural resources, we cannot afford to have a citizenry that fundamentally misunderstands the motivations of today’s farmers, and is resistant to critical innovations.
Along with Monsanto, we helped conduct interviews with citizens around the United States to better understand their perceptions, hopes and fears about the state of agriculture. What we found was eye-opening.
The majority of the people we met with believed that there is a big distinction between “organic” farming and so-called “conventional” farming. They believed organic farming doesn’t use pesticides (it does), and they closely associated conventional farming with technologies that are more than 20 years old, including GMOs.
It’s not “organic” vs. “conventional;” it’s “modern” vs. “non-modern.”
When we started talking about the data and digital revolution that has been taking place on modern farms over the past decade, it was their turn to have their eyes opened: they simply hadn’t considered the possibility that smart technology was leading to smarter use of things like water, soil and energy on the farm. It was a different way of looking at the “debate” over methods of agriculture. It’s not “organic versus conventional; it’s “modern” vs. “non-modern.”
To help inform and motivate influential consumers, we created an integrated messaging initiative under the heading “Modern Agriculture.” TV spots, print and digital advertising drove our audience to a website, ModernAg.org, that blossoms with in-depth content about the direct role human innovation and agricultural technology are taking in reducing the volume of natural resources humanity needs to feed itself.
Modern agriculture is an evolving approach to agricultural innovations and farming practices that helps farmers increase efficiency and reduce the amount of natural resources—water, land, and energy—necessary to meet the world’s food, fuel, and fiber needs.
Modern agriculture is driven by continuous improvements in digital tools and data, as well as collaborations among farmers and researchers across the public and private sectors.