REWARDING farmers for reaching sustainability targets has been put forward as a means to improve global agriculture's green credentials.
For some observers though, more grower-driven approaches could have longer term benefits.
Sustainability was one of the focuses at the Bayer Future of Farming dialogue in Germany this month.
Environmental buzzwords like climate change, carbon footprints, emissions and carbon sequestration were used with vigour during the discussions and presentations over the three day conference.
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Bayer Crop Science division president, Liam Condon said it would be important to put some incentive, possible even monetary incentive, behind reaching sustainability goals.
"In the future, there will be measurable sustainability goals. That's not easy to do that but that's some of the directions we are committed to," he said.
That reality might not be as far away as some might think with Mr Condon suggesting Bayer's sustainability incentives could be ready within two years, although there are numerous checks to go through.
"Any changes to compensation have to be approved by our shareholders. That's not something you do on the fly," he said.
At the Germany event, Bayer announced three commitments to address world challenges by 2030:
- Reduce the environmental impact of crop protection by 30 per cent by developing new technologies that help farmers to scale down crop protection product volumes and enable a more precise application.
- Reduce field greenhouse gases emissions from the most emitting crops systems in the regions Bayer serves by 30pc.
- Empower 100 million smallholder farmers in developing countries around the world by providing more access to sustainable agricultural solutions.
Bayer Ag's head of public affairs and sustainability, Matthias Berninger, said sustainability encompassed so much, from addressing global food shortages to reducing biodiversity loss.
"In my lifetime, the population has doubled. That has never happened before," Mr Berninger said.
Mr Berninger, a former politician, told of how he'd researched many companies and found Bayer had the most potential to make a positive impact in the area of sustainable farming practices.
He heaped pressure on his own company saying there was not a single company that could make a difference like Bayer.
"I believe Bayer is very uniquely positioned to provide solutions to this problem," he said.
The three major issues of concern, according to Mr Berninger, were loss of biodiversity, world population growth and climate change.
He bemoaned the trend of large companies announcing sustainability projects each year but never being held accountable for them.
In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Members, providing a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet by 2030.
"There are only about 10 years left to reach the SDGs," Mr Berninger said.
"We need to speed up and for that we need to be much more open to innovation."
Bayer Crop Science head of sustainability and business stewardship, Klaus Kunz, spoke on shaping agriculture to benefit farmers, consumers and the planet.
He said discussions with farmers must recognise the economic strains they are working under and the difficulties involved in incorporating sustainability into business decisions.
Mr Klaus said Bayer intended to be transparent on its progress toward reaching its sustainability goals, and he'd like to see other companies do the same.
Voices from the next generation were also heard with Bayer Youth Ag Summit participant, Ebba Engstrom, sharing her views on what a sustainable farming future looked like.
"Any extent of fiscal progression can only be carried forward and supported by the environmental and social pillars that underline it," she said.
Bayer Crop Science head of product supply, Dirk Backhaus, was even more direct in the need for the company to embrace sustainability.
"We fail if we don't make this a part of our culture," he said.
German farmer and member of the Bayer ForwardFarm Network, Bernd Olligs, agreed with the idea of growers being acknowledged for their efforts in this area.
He said on his own farm, careful data collection allowed him to see how much carbon was produced through a successful sugarbeet crop.
"We should be rewarded for that," he said.
"We have to make it clear that using plant protection products can be a sensible tool.
"We need more research in what kind of crops attract the most beneficial insects, that, going down the road, we would use less products."
International Potato Centre Latin America and the Caribbean regional director, Ginya Truitt Nakata, said it must become normal for growers and agricultural companies to quantify their sustainability efforts.
She said growers needed to add the actual real costs to their balance sheets for water, soil and regenerated land.
"That stuff isn't free. When we actually assign the costs of these things to our operations we are going to see a seismic shift in our operations," she said.
She also pushed for Bayer to invest more into crops outside the big staples.
"Invest in some of these orphan crops that desperately need your attention, even though it's not corn or soy or cotton," she said.
"We are going to have to move into the areas we are uncomfortable with. We need to invest in the legumes."
Bayer Crop Science head of environmental strategy and industry activation, Andy Knepp, said farmers have always traditionally been good custodians for the land anyway, so it made sense to make that goal even more attractive when it comes to succession planning.
"Many of my colleagues aspire to pass the farm on. Many see themselves as caretakers of the land but there is always room for improvement," he said.
"The whole conversation comes back to, what is the value of the farm? Solutions that help incentivise farmers to make those changes on farm will really help."
Bayer has 7300 scientists working in more than 35 research and development sites and more than 175 breeding stations.
- Ashley Walmsley was a guest of Bayer at the Future of Farming dialogue in Germany.
The story Farmers could be paid more for sustainable practices first appeared on Good Fruit & Vegetables.