In the mid-1940s U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace spearheaded a program to help developing nations feed their growing populations. The program included four scientists, one of whom was Dr. Norman Borlaug.
Using traditional plant breeding methods, Borlaug started a growing process that allowed plants to thrive with new irrigation and crop management techniques. By the 1960s, the benefits of what was nicknamed the “Green Revolution” were apparent when successful new wheat varieties were made available in countries across the globe.
A new herbicide using glyphosate as the active ingredient was developed. The glyphosate-based herbicide is used by farmers around the world to control weeds in their crops. Roundup® branded glyphosate-based herbicides also made their way into lawn and garden products, which allow landowners to control weeds along sidewalks, driveways, gardens, and fences.
The first twin-rotor system combine was created by Sperry-New Holland. This allowed crops to be cut and separated in one pass over the field. For corn, it not only separated the husk and ears, but also shelled the kernels and chopped the stalks, saving considerable amounts of time, energy and resources for farmers.
Scientists working at Monsanto Company became the first in the world to genetically modify a plant cell. The team used Agrobacterium to introduce a new gene into the petunia plant and announced their achievement the following year. Within five years, these researchers planted their first outdoor trials of a genetically modified crop – tomatoes that were resistant to insects, viruses and crop protection solutions. The Agrobacterium method first used in 1982 is still in use today by Bayer scientists, as well as those working throughout the entire agricultural industry.
For the first time, farmers were able to use satellite technology to see their farms from overhead. This new perspective enabled them to collect unprecedented insights to better track their fields' performance and strategically plan for next season based on their farm’s data.
After years of testing for safety and performance, the first genetically modified row crops became available for farmers. In addition to developing cotton that could better protect itself against damaging insects, the newly introduced soybeans were developed alongside crop protection solutions that enabled farmers to specifically target invasive weeds that compete with the crop for land, water, sunlight and soil nutrients.
Like many people, farmers around the world started carrying mobile devices, which allowed them to stay connected to colleagues while in the field. This also meant they now had access to data while on-the-go. In addition to the unprecedented ability to order seed or fertilizer at any time or in any place, this also allowed smallholder farmers to access crucial agronomic advice and secure fair market pricing to help protect their livelihoods.
Drones, robots and "intelligent" tractors
Following the launch of GPS technology in the mid- 1990s, major farm equipment manufacturers introduced auto-steer capabilities and other automated functions in tractors, sprayers and combines, which saw widespread farmer adoption. Ground-based and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) were piloted on farms in the early 2000s, initially used for crop mapping, and in recent years, crop scouting, seeding, and spraying. Together, these technologies helped farmers reach new levels of precision and efficiency in crop management – down to the square meter. Today, drones are used by both large scale and smallholder farmers all over the globe.
Through access to real-time data, farmers can make better-informed decisions that allow them to use resources more sustainably. FieldView™ is a digital platform that combines data from on-farm practices and agronomic models with local weather and soil conditions to provide farmers a more detailed understanding of their fields. This enables better harvests while simultaneously benefiting our planet. Today, farmers use FieldView to record their sustainable farming practices, and even track the amount of carbon they store in their soil—a critical step in fighting climate change.
Plant Breeding 2.0
Mankind has been breeding food crops for thousands of years. But by using new understanding of a crop’s genome, modern techniques such as marker-assisted selection, data science and predictive analytics, plant breeders could do their jobs more efficiently than ever before. This process, called precision breeding, has delivered crops with greater yield potential and more resilience in face of evolving pressures from pests, weeds, diseases and adverse weather. For example, short-stature corn was developed to stand at the ideal height to avoid greensnap and pair perfectly with combine equipment during harvest. That’s a huge step forward in preventing food loss in the field.
In 2012, two researchers, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, made a breakthrough, Nobel Prize-winning discovery called CRISPR – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. This technology harnesses natural cellular mechanisms for DNA repair and enables scientists to “fine tune” an organism’s genome by “turning off or on” characteristics of interest. Today, this technology – known as genome editing – is being used by plant scientists to precisely design seeds with increasingly desirable characteristics such as improved yield or quality profiles, resistance to diseases and pests and even climate resilience.
Advancements in data analytics have enabled researchers to make incredible strides toward building a more productive—and resilient—global food system. These digital tools are helping unlock entirely new possibilities in crop protection, plant breeding, and more - the applications of these technologies are endless. For example, rather than screening hundreds of thousands of leads to find the next great crop protection molecule, Bayer scientists can now design whole new ones with specific performance, safety and sustainability profiles. This sea change in small molecule discovery is yielding major results, including the discovery of the first new herbicide mode of action in 30 years.
The "cloud" connects the world
In addition to unlocking innovation within agriculture, advancements in cloud computing and data management solutions can connect sustainable practices on the farm with the food, feed, fiber, and fuel value chains, and create greater transparency for consumers who want to know where their products come from. Bayer and Microsoft entered into a strategic partnership to advance new solutions that address this growing societal demand and support sustainable sourcing, manufacturing and supply chain improvement, as well as ESG monitoring and measurement.
Rise of the "omics"
“Omics” is a collection of tools that enables in-depth study of systems. In Crop Science, we use these tools to understand how complex biological systems work - genomics (genetic codes), transcriptomics (genetic expression), proteomics (proteins) and metabolomics (small molecules) – and create breakthrough innovations that address equally complex challenges. For example, Bayer researchers used “omics” to create the first-ever RNA-interference-based solution for a major food crop: a novel biotechnology trait for corn to control the “billion-dollar bug” – corn rootworm.
Around the world, farmers are exploring the potential of farming in new spaces, including urban rooftops, indoor growing systems and in previously "unfarmable" places like deserts. In addition to insulating crops from environmental pressures such as pests, disease and extreme weather events, indoor farms allow farmers to grow using considerably less land and far fewer resources. Similar closed-loop systems are being piloted in the desert (such as our Marana Greenhouse), in cities and even the stratosphere. Rooftop farms provide opportunities for more localized food production, reducing air temperatures and improving air quality in urban areas. These are all examples of the sort of fundamental advancements necessary to drive a more sustainable future on Earth.