As former U.S. secretaries of agriculture from both sides of the aisle, we know firsthand that the contributions made by farmers and agribusinesses of all sizes are rarely given the credit they are due. American farmers help to drive the U.S. economy and create new opportunity in rural communities. They contribute almost $1 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product each year and exported $129.7 billion worth of American-grown and -made products in fiscal year 2016 alone. By 2050, a growing global population will need twice as much food as the world can produce today, which presents even more new opportunities for American farmers.
With new opportunities come new challenges. Looking forward, we see headwinds acting against the livelihoods and future global competitiveness of American farmers and the security of our national food supply: the unmanageable cost of innovation and the need for a strong, focused American-owned agriculture company.
There is no greater imperative for global agriculture than science and technology. Mother Nature throws farmers an endless stream of curve balls, from new weather patterns to spreading pests. As the challenges evolve, the needs of farmers for new products and services evolve, too. Those who grow and consume food depend on tools focused on reducing water usage and raising drought resistant crops; nutritional advancements that assure the hungry are fed and improve overall health and well-being; better planting techniques and conservation and tillage practices that improve and preserve soil health; practices that reduce post-harvest loss and food waste; and new seed varieties that can stand up and thrive under the most difficult conditions, among others.
But as costs of discovery and commercialization rise, and agriculture has become both more global and more competitive, fewer and fewer companies have the scale to afford the costly, end-to-end process from discovery through development and regulatory approval that is required to bring new products to farmers. With fewer and fewer companies having the capability to do so, farmers everywhere face the prospect of limited choices and fewer new products.
Innovation in food and agriculture comes from companies of all sizes – from the army of experts our industry employs and from scientific discoveries by numerous creative farmers, university labs and startups that are then developed by mid-sized firms and multinationals. These different groups depend upon one another, just like an ecosystem, to move new ideas through the long, expensive processes of development and regulatory approval before they can be delivered to farmers. Larger companies depend on smaller ones and vice versa.
To do enough to meet farmers’ requirements for more innovation and greater choice, and overcome the emerging innovation bottleneck that is holding them back, large companies with scale and focused resources are a necessary part of that creative system. That is what is causing some of the shifts in the inputs marketplace we are seeing today, including the number of companies seeking to merge with one another. Some of these companies are foreign-owned and seeking to take control of American companies.
Dow and DuPont are each huge conglomerates within which their relatively small agriculture businesses must compete for resources against other businesses. By coming together, they intend to then create a single, independent, U.S.-based and -owned pure agriculture company capable of competing effectively against their still larger global peers.
Given the current landscape, now more than ever America’s farmers need what Dow and DuPont are proposing – a strong, focused American agriculture company that is American-owned, championing the interests of the American farmer in a marketplace that may soon be dominated by foreign-owned behemoths. Without such an enterprise, totally and completely focused on agriculture, with every minute of every day devoted to working in partnership with farmers and the full range of entities working to feed an ever-expanding need for sustainable food sources, the American farmers who grow our food lose out – and the people who eat it do, too.
For farmers across this great nation – and around the world – the stakes are real. They all want a faster, bigger and better stream of new products, techniques and tools because they need them. They want to seize business opportunities by putting food on tables, at home and abroad. This will mean hard work for America’s farmers, which they will do with humility and excellence, as they always have. They need a strong, American-owned agriculture company by their side.
Johanns is a former governor and U.S senator from Nebraska, and served as agriculture secretary under former President George W. Bush. Glickman represented Kansas for 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as agriculture secretary under former President Bill Clinton.
Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Submission guidelines can be found here.