18 September 2015, 14:52
Hall 21 Stand G25
There can be no doubt that technology and knowledge are the main drivers for successful agricultural plant production, and Agritechnica has long provided a forum for sharing information on these topics as they relate to crops traditionally grown in Europe. Now, however, the event is turning its attention to the global stage with a new Special on Major Crops Worldwide.
The development represents an expansion of the Rice Special held for the first time at Agritechnica 2013. Following a positive response from visitors and exhibitors, it has been extended to include crops including soybeans, sugar cane and cotton.
Although rarely seen in continental Europe, these crops are grown on millions of hectares across the globe, and just like the cereals and oilseeds we are more familiar with, their yields must also be increased to meet the future demand for food, forage and agricultural commodities.
The scale of production of these crops is immense, with figures from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization* (FAO) reporting sugar cane production in excess of 1911 million tonnes, the largest crop grown by weight on the planet. Thanks to an average yield of about 71 tonnes/hectare, this yield is achieved on just 27 million hectares of land.
Rice, on the other hand, is grown on about 161 million hectares, with the FAO estimating global production at 741 million tonnes (4.5 tonnes/hectare). This places it between maize (1018 million tonnes from 178 million hectares) and wheat (716 millon tonnes from 224 million hectares) in terms of output.
Soybeans, which remain a staple of both the human and livestock food chain – and indeed a growing importance for biofuel production – is well down the list at global production of 223 million tonnes reported by the FAO on about 118 million hectares (representing an average worldwide yield of about 2.5 tonnes/hectare), while about 33 million hectares of cotton is grown with production of roughly 39 million tonnes.
Steadily growing crop outputs
The FAO statistics show both rice and sugar cane growing steadily in output between 2009 and 2013, with rice production increasing by 8% (54 million tonnes) and sugar cane production increasing 13% (224 million tonnes). Cotton production increased until 2012, but then fell back thanks to large end stocks that even today are equal to global production.
Soybean production has also increased overall, but the annual area planted with the crop certainly has not experienced steady growth. This is mainly due to the fact that the United States (US) is regularly the world’s largest producer, and the area grown remains sensitive to the profitability of other crops.
It will come as no surprise that China is the world’s largest rice producer, growing 204 million tonnes according to the FAO* (28% of the global crop), with India in second place at 159 million tonnes (21%); China also leads cotton growing at 12.6 million tonnes (27%), with India again in a close second place again at 12.3 million tonnes (26%).
When it comes to growing sugar cane, Brazil is way out in front at 768 million tonnes (40%), while India is second yet again with 321 million tonnes (17%). The US takes top spot in soybean production at 89.5 million tonnes (32%), according to the FAO, while Brazil is second with 81.7 million tonnes (30%).
In any discussion about global production it is useful to consider the ceiling yield potential of the crops bring grown, and the United Nations’ data also provides some interesting insights. For example, the best sugar cane yields globally are achieved in Peru, which boast 133 tonnes/hectare compared with the global average of 70.9 tonnes/hectare. Australia comes out on top for rice production, with an average yield of 10.2 tonnes/hectare compared with just 4.5 tonnes/hectare worldwide, and when it comes to soybeans, Turkey leads the way at 4.2 tonnes/hectare when globally the figure is 2.5 tonnes/hectare.
A strong proponent of biotechnology
As one of the world’s largest soybean producers, the US has been at the forefront of work to increase production efficiency of the crop. This has won the backing of farmer Laura Foell, who chairs the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and serves on the United Soybean Board (USB) – a producer-funded organization that invests in research projects to maximize profit opportunities for all US soybean farmers.
Foell was an early adopter of herbicide-tolerant crops, which allowed her to switch soybean production on her farm to a no-till system in the late 1990s.
“Biotechnology allows us to be more efficient no-till farmers,” she told American Soybean, the journal of the American Soybean Association (ASA), adding that no-till helps control soil erosion, protects water quality, lowers agriculture’s carbon footprint, preserves moisture in the soil and increases biodiversity in the soil, which can improve nutrient recycling.
“Using conservation tillage in combination with herbicide-tolerant crops has also allowed us to reduce the number of herbicide applications and use less diesel fuel, since we make fewer trips across the field,” Foell said, adding there is another important social benefit too. “No-till saves us approximately 440 working hours per year.”
Biotechnology in the form of herbicide-resistant crops remains a controversial issue in many parts of the world, but Foell insists that the farmer’s role is to feed people.
“We need to change the conversation about biotechnology and emphasize how it increases sustainability in all its forms – economically, environmentally and socially,” she said.
This is a message that Foell has also helped spread overseas; this spring she traveled to Beijing with farmers from Iowa, Texas and Kansas to participate in the Forum on Biotechnology and Global Soy Trade. About 100 Chinese agriculture, state and industry representatives attended the forum. The US group partnered with farmers from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to present a united front to the Chinese through the International Soy Growers Alliance that sponsored the event.
“Even though we are competitors, we share a commitment to meet the rapidly increasing world demand for high-quality, healthy soy products produced in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way,” Foell said. “We need to pay attention to what our global customers want. This requires US growers to stay informed about global trade issues and put a face on agriculture to build trust with consumers at home and abroad.
“We do not need to apologize for using biotechnology. We need to share the facts and explain why we do what we do.”
The facts tell a compelling story, as detailed by the USB’s 2012 Field to Market study that revealed:
• The amount of land required to produce one bushel of soybeans has decreased by 35% since 1980;
• US soybean farmers have reduced soil erosion per bushel by 66% since 1980, thanks to soil conservation practices; and
• US soybean farmers have reduced their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and irrigation water use per bushel by more than 40% in the past 30 years.
To share these success stories and build global demand for US soybeans, the ASA, USSEC, USB and state soybean boards have developed the US Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol. Launched in 2013, this helps document sustainable soybean farming practices for international customers.
The quest for sustainable increases in efficiency
Farmers, consultants and politicians are constantly looking for approaches to sustainably raise efficiency in crop production in their countries. What sustainable production actually means is still open to debate, but a note from the United Nations’ high-level task force on Global Food Security in March 2012, titled Food and Nutrition Security for All through Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, said sustainability in agriculture and food systems meant improving the ways resources are used and distributed. That involves continuously striving to increase efficiency and reduce waste through all stages of food production, processing and consumption, while also seeking to ensure equitable access to nutrition.
And strategic options for sustainability apply along the length of food value chains. They include changes in agricultural production patterns, integrated management of access to natural resources and rewarding sustainability in food production systems and markets.
The right decisions can have positive impacts on the environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase both carbon sequestration and biodiversity. And they can have a positive impact on human and social wellbeing, poverty reduction and equity.
Open and distortion-free agricultural trade will contribute to the objective of sustainable agricultural development by promoting an efficient allocation of the world’s scarce natural resources, as well as improving access to food. The United Nations report makes clear that protectionist policies should be resisted when national measures to mitigate and adapt to global environmental challenges are designed.
Government-backed sugar cane program
A good example of the type of government-supported initiatives that are currently underway is an industry-led, world-class, best-practice system for sugar cane growing across Queensland, Australia. Set up by the Queensland Cane Growers Organization, better known as Canegrowers, Smartcane BMP (best management practice) secured 2.1 million euros funding from the Queensland government for its development and delivery. The program gives growers an opportunity to showcase that they manage their industry to the best management standards.
Smartcane BMP allows producers to benchmark their business against seven “modules” covering a wide range of usual farm activities. These are: soil health and plant nutrition management; pest, disease and weed management; drainage and Irrigation management; crop production and harvest management; natural systems management; farm business management; and workplace health and safety management.
A team of facilitators throughout Queensland help growers go through the modules they choose to take on, and as the sugar cane producers answer each question, the system tells them if they are “below”, “at”, or “above” the industry standard for each practice. If any practice is below the industry standard, the grower is shown what they need to do to reach that mark.
Farmer Kevin Borg, who is chairman of Canegrowers’ Mackay branch, said that when the Smartcane BMP program first came into operation, he knew it would be a great alternative for the regulations already in place.
“I also knew that it would not be easy, nor was it meant to be,” he added. “So getting started and amid some negative hype around the program, I was quite apprehensive.
“However, I do want the world to recognize that I am a sustainable and responsible operator and I want to be able to say I am a Smartcane BMP accredited grower.
“By having convincing evidence of best management practice operations, I will be able to immediately lay to rest any views that imply that as a cane grower I am an environmental vandal.”
Borg is not alone in his support of the program. About 1010 farms (close to 25% of Australia’s sugar cane growers) representing 158,300 hectares have already signed up to the program since it’s a launch in 2013.
“Smartcane BMP will help Australia maintain its competitive edge in the increasingly competitive world market,” Borg added. “Being able to show we are productive and sustainable producers of quality sugar is becoming increasingly important to our customers, and this program is the way we are going to show just that.”
Access experts and potential business partners
The Major World Crops Special will allow providers from industry and institutions to present their technology, strategies and expertise, and to get in contact with potential business partners. The best ideas come from platforms like Agritechnica, where participants can get an international exchange of views.
Topics covered by the special will include: soil preparation; seeding; irrigation; plant protection; harvesting; and precision farming. There will also be Special Forums where lectures will discuss ways of optimizing crop production, as well as providing a stage for different countries to present the opportunities they offer for agriculture. Anyone wishing to sign up to present a forum should email: email@example.com.
Visitors to the Special will be able to find information about new techniques in the production of different crops, picking up new insights on how optimal management can reduce inputs and losses.
There will also be the opportunity to find out more about the agri benchmark network (www.agribenchmark.org). Jointly operated by the Thünen Institute of Farm Economics and DLG, agri benchmark is a global, non-profit network of agricultural economists, advisors, producers and specialists in key sectors of agricultural and horticultural value chains, that includes the FAO and European Commission among its many clients. Other exhibitors include: Map of Agricultural by Craigmore Research, Pro Soja, Danube Soya Association.