SolutionLab Creates "Light Bulb" Moments Around Food

Guest Blog by Jerry Hayes, Honey Bee Health Lead, Monsanto

Monsanto recently sponsored the “Nourishing 9 Billion” SolutionLab at UC Davis. I appreciated being invited to observe and to participate in one of the several breakout groups made up of students and young professionals to develop ideas and solutions for a specific problem in the food system. It was exciting to engage in dialogue with intelligent and motivated individuals who are passionate about the environment, of which agriculture plays a critical role.

Our group and the young people I spoke with informally after the session clearly understand the importance of the need to provide a sustainable food supply to an expanding global population. They were open and wanted to learn more about what Monsanto does to contribute to this need. My group focused on food and vegetable production. As the Monsanto Honey Bee Health lead, I was able to relay the critical message that without pollinators, some crops would go away altogether. In fact, about one-third of our food results from the fact that a honey bee visited a flower, picked up pollen and took it to another flower so that a seed could be fertilized and the plant could produce the fruits, berries, nuts and vegetables many of us enjoy every day. This was a revelation to many in the group. Some of them, along with many U.S. consumers, think simply that farmers plant seeds, crops grow and the food from these crops ends up in the grocery store.

This made a light bulb go on for me. The SolutionLabs are a great model to introduce the challenge of feeding a population of 9 billion and to gather ideas. But these students represent a very small subset of people around the world. How can we extend this message to others and get their input, as well as share an overview of agriculture and food production? I think it starts “at home.” Monsanto is a global company with 22,000 employees. Imagine the impact if each of us talked to our family and friends and in our communities about the big challenges facing our planet and how Monsanto is committed to bringing a broad range of solutions to help nourish our growing world.

I’m proud of Monsanto’s commitment to honey bee health. Honey bee health is my passion and that is the way I enter conversations about food challenges. Monsanto spends about $1 million per year renting honey bee colonies from commercial beekeepers to pollinate many of our production vegetable and canola seed crops. Our vegetable seed and canola seed businesses depend on healthy pollinators. Without those seeds, our customers can’t grow those crops that nourish our world.

Monsanto works with many groups to develop sustainable solutions for the complex issues facing honey bee health. We are a member of the Honey Bee Health Coalition facilitated by The Keystone Center. The coalition is comprised of a diverse range of organizations, collaborating to implement solutions that will help to achieve a healthy population of honey bees in the context of productive agricultural systems and thriving ecosystems. In 2012, Monsanto formed the Honey Bee Advisory Council to bring together members of the beekeeping industry, experts and academia to advise our company. Together, we have learned a great deal about the complicated challenges facing beekeepers. With this council as a guiding force, our honey bee health research and development efforts are focused on overcoming key challenges and discovering sustainable solutions for beekeepers. This is being accomplished through the work of Beeologics, a research firm that is part of Monsanto and that is developing a line of products to specifically address the long-term health of honey bees.

Nourishing 9 billion people will be one of the world’s greatest challenges and finding solutions to this issue starts by collaborating with others. At Monsanto, we believe we need to identify the right opportunities where our company and partners can have real, meaningful, positive impact on agriculture advances that could change the world. And from my perspective, that can happen in the hive, in the field and on a university campus.