If environmental and economic sustainability is ultimately a matter of balancing the human race’s consumption and productivity, then the agricultural industry leans heavily on both sides of that scale. Its drain on the earth’s resources is enormous: it claims 70 percent of all freshwater taken by our species and more than 40 percent of the planet’s solid surface (nearly all the arable land), with attendant casualties in biodiversity. Yet modern agriculture is also the only reason we can produce enough food to nourish our population of 6.8 billion—a number slated to reach more than nine billion by midcentury. Keeping up with that steeply rising demand thus defines the challenge of sustainability not only for agriculture but for humanity.
Agriculture depends on many technologies, but biotechnology might be the most influential among them. To find out how the industry perceives its prospects for raising both global crop productivity and sustainability, contributing editor John Rennie spoke with representatives of four leading agricultural biotechnology companies. What follows here is an abridged version of their edited conversation. —The Editors