While the attention of the world’s food crisis critics was focused on the UN’s summit in Rome, Monsanto, the agro-biotech behemoth, publicized its plans to double corn, cotton and soy bean crop yields by 2030 while cutting water, land and energy needs 30 percent. The St. Louis, Mo.-based company’s three-point plan also stipulates it will work to help farmers, including an ill-defined “5 million people in resource-poor farm families.”
Conspicuously absent from the announcement was any mention of biofuels and how doubling the yields of corn and soy, the two largest biofuels feedstock in the U.S., might change the market economics of grain-based ethanol. All of these efficiency and yield boosts could greatly help corn and soy ethanol makers, who are getting slammed by slimming margins, and slow the switch to non-food biofuel feedstocks.
Monsanto, one of the world’s largest providers of seed, has seen its year-over-year profits triple recently amid the biofuel boom and food price hike. Critics say this just is posturing from Monsanto and it is taking advantage of the current food crisis to gain approval of its controversial technologies. Monsanto says it will put $10 million over five years into research for wheat and rice, two crops Monsanto doesn’t particularly focus on, to help food production in developing countries. But this is a pittance compared the to $2 million Monsanto spends on research and development every single day.
Monsanto shied away from pushing its controversial genetically modified products, saying its yield goals can be achieved by using “marker-assisted selection.” The method uses genetic testing to identify desirable genetic traits that can then be exploited through traditional hybrid breeding and doesn’t include laboratory genetic manipulation.