by Maggie Severns
October 9, 2013
The agriculture giant
has a variety 'solutions' for
mitigating and adapting to
Global warming could mean big
business for controversial
agriculture giant Monsanto, which
announced last week it was purchasing the climate change-oriented
startup Climate Corporation for $930 million.
Agriculture, which uses roughly 40
percent of the world's land, will be deeply affected by climate
change in the coming years.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change 'predicted',
that warming will lead to pest
that climate-related severe
weather will impact food security
that rising temperatures will
hurt production for farms in equatorial areas
(In areas further from the equator,
temperature rise is actually estimated to increase production
in the short term, then harm production if temperatures continue to
rise over 3 degrees Celsius in the long term.)
Meanwhile, increases in the global
population will make it crucial for farmers to be efficient with
their land, says UC Davis professor Tu Jarvis.
"The increase in food production,
essentially, in the future needs to be in yields
- output per acre," Jarvis says, even while weather
patterns make farming less predictable or more difficult in some
Monsanto, meanwhile, has been gearing up
to sell its wares to farmers adapting to climate change.
Here are five climate change-related
products the company either sells already, or plans to:
Data to help farmers grow crops in a
Climate Corporation, which
Monsanto is acquiring, sells
detailed weather and soil
information to farmers with the
stated mission of
"all the world's people
and businesses manage and adapt to climate change."
This data is meant to
help farmers better plan, track, and harvest their
crops, ultimately making farms more productive.
According to its press
release, Monsanto thinks the ag data business
will be a $20-billion market, and that farmers using
these tools could increase their yield BY 30 to 50
bushels (that's between 1,700 and 2,800 shelled
In a video interview about
the acquisition, Monsanto vice president of global
strategy Kerry Preete told
"We think weather
patterns are becoming more erratic, it places a huge
challenge on farmers with their production. We think
a lot of the risk can be mitigated out of weather
impact through information," Preete said.
"If you know what's
going on every day in the field, based on climate
changes, soil variations that exist, we can really
help farmers mitigate some of the challenges that
impact their yield."
Insurance for when it's too hot, cold, dry,
wet, or otherwise extreme outside
currently sells both
federally subsidized crop insurance and supplemental plans
that pay out additional benefits when crops go awry.
While federal insurance repays
farmers up to the break-even point for a failed crop,
Climate Corporation insures the lost profits as well.
Monsanto says it will maintain this insurance business.
Though the broader insurance
industry is concerned about losses due to major natural
disasters occurring more often as the result of climate
change, insuring crops is less risky because payouts for
a damaged crop season a generally smaller than those for
dense, damaged urban areas, according to Gerald
Nelson, a professor emeritus at the University of
Monsanto lists the
effects of climate change-related precipitation changes
and droughts as a potential "opportunity" in its
most recent filing with
the Carbon Disclosure Project, explaining that,
"climate changes also
will require agriculture to be more resilient."
The company adds that it is,
"positioned well to
deliver products to farmers that are climate
This year, Monsanto started
rolling out a new line of patented, first-of-its-kind
genetically engineered corn seeds that are
resistant to drought.
The seeds are
engineered so that they can withstand the stress of a
drought by using less water when it is dry outside, but
still yield the same amount of corn during a regular
harvest, according to
In southern Africa, where
corn is the largest agricultural product, last month's
report from the IPCC
predicts that by the
end of the century, it is "likely" that the area will
become dryer due to climate change and that this,
"will [increase] the
risk of agricultural drought."
Though the drought-resistant
corn is currently only being sold in the US, the market
for hybrid corn in South Africa alone is worth an
estimated $250 million,
Reuters, and the continent has an estimated 75
million acres of land available for corn production.
Monsanto has been ramping up
its presence in sub-Saharan Africa through
the Gates foundation-funded
Water Efficient Maize for Africa
program, donating germplasm (starter seeds) and
drought-tolerant corn traits and, Reuters says,
developing relationships with local organizations.
Cotton that needs less water to grow
Corn isn't the only crop that
Monsanto is reengineering for a changing climate.
The company is piloting
genetically modified cotton with "improved
water use" that that can grow while using less
water and survive drought.
predicted in 2007 that
climate change will lead to decreased cotton yields
across the South in the coming years.
In cotton-producing states
such as Texas, water scarcity is an issue and
heat waves can
evaporate the water available in soil and in reservoirs,
which may make water-preserving crops attractive when
they come to market.
States along the
cotton belt, which
stretches across much of the southeastern US and into
Texas, have been stricken by extreme heat and drought in
recent report from NOAA
found that climate change increased both the magnitude
and likelihood of extreme heat waves taking place in the
"had little impact on
the lack of precipitation in the central United
States in 2012."
Crops for biofuel
Since 1993, Monsanto has sold
high-yield, highly fermentable corn seed specifically
designed to be made into ethanol -
it was the first company to do so.
Ethanol processors that have
partnered with Monsanto through a related program buy the
corn at a premium because it produces more fuel per bushel
of corn. The company also sells soybeans and sorghum, which
can be used to produce biofuel.
Whether ethanol is actually
a "green" fuel
But in recent years, laws
aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance
on foreign oil have helped
boost its production,
and if corn-based ethanol continues rising in demand,
opportunity could be significant for the business,"
Monsanto says in its Carbon Disclosure Project