Innovating for a Better World Through an open innovation model, Corteva Agriscience begins life as a standalone company by helping to create healthy food and a healthy planet. By Marc Zienkiewicz

Since Neal Gutterson became Corteva Agriscience’s chief technology officer, he’s more certain than ever of a few major facts about agriculture.

The first is that people everywhere want a food supply that helps them be healthier than ever before.

The second is that many of those same people want to know that the way their food is produced is good for the planet.

The third is that the farmer is facing challenging economic times, and anyone wanting to make a real difference must be motivated to help them be more profitable and simplify their operation. That’s because farming is more complicated with more choices and decisions than ever before, Gutterson says.

“Any time anyone is tempted to think technology has solved all the problems farmers have, a batch of new problems are right around the corner. We have the best food supply ever in our planet’s history, yet we know it can be better. Open innovation is helping us address the issues that exist now and that will exist in the future.”

That open innovation happens in six key areas Corteva is focusing on as it becomes a standalone company on June 1, 2019: traits, breeding, enabling technologies like CRISPR, crop protection, biologicals and digital solutions.

“Our purpose is to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. We put farmers and consumers at the heart of everything we do,” says Igor Teslenko, president of Corteva’s European operations.

Singapore’s ascent is largely attributable to its wealth. GDP per capita there has risen nearly 30% since 2012.

The Singapore Paradox

When consumers in developed countries browse the brimming shelves of their local grocer for their next meal, they rarely register just how vulnerable this spectacular abundance really is.

But food security — having access to sufficient amounts of safe food that meets the dietary needs of all — is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. Every natural disaster or trade skirmish puts this global network in peril.

As it is, almost a billion people go to bed hungry every night, according to United Nations statistics. Meanwhile, population growth will add 2 billion more people by 2050, even as the specter of climate change threatens to put our global food system at even greater risk.

Six years ago, in hopes of understanding better just how secure the world’s food supply is, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) began publishing the Global Food Security Index, sponsored by Corteva Agriscience. The most recent edition, called Building Resilience in the Face of Rising Food Security Risks, ranks 113 countries in terms of three overall categories: the quality and safety of their food supply, its affordability and its accessibility.

The 2018 results come as something of a surprise. The top-ranked country overall was Singapore, even though the Southeast Asian city-state must import 90% of its food.

Singapore’s ascent is largely attributable to its wealth. GDP per capita there has risen nearly 30% since 2012, reaching an all-time high of more than $55,000 in 2017, and it spends less money on food as a percentage of GDP per capita (6.9%) than any other country on the list other than the U.S. (6.2%). Singapore also has low import tariffs on agriculture, which helps to keep food prices low. As a result, the city-state topped the ranking for affordability, while ranking 15th overall for availability, and 24th for quality and safety.

Because the country imports 90% of its food supply, it is susceptible to trade and supply-chain disruptions and is highly vulnerable to risks from climate change and scarce natural resources. In fact, Singapore ranks just 103rd in Natural Resources and Resilience; when this category was factored into the country’s overall score, its ranking drops to 16.

“Given that Singapore is an island-state and located near the equator, it is subject to rising sea levels and temperatures,” says Robert Smith, a public policy consultant with the EIU and an author of the survey. “And given that it is largely dependent on food imports, trade disruptions (related to either climate change or geopolitical risks, or both) could pose a serious threat to the country.”

By gaining an understanding of the risk and resilience of their food systems, countries can better anticipate, absorb and recover from the shocks and challenges to their production, distribution, and consumption of food.

Global climate change will create unprecedented challenges and is already introducing considerable uncertainty into the conditions needed for adequate food production and distribution, the index notes.

Neal Gutterson just finished a six-year term on the board of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). He says building resilient supply chains requires new ideas to allow the world’s current food systems to become stronger. In fact, Corteva is opening a new regional office in Singapore.

“The reality is we have people who are malnourished and people who have an abundance of food. We produce more than enough calories globally, but not necessarily in the right place or right form, so the issue is two-pronged. The biggest change comes from a combination of technologies and new business models that allow us to deliver them.”

Corteva is accomplishing this with a food chain effort is called CoNNEXT. CoNNEXT is a global business service; Corteva applies its global knowledge and information to local markets to enable sales and support grower confidence in their freedom to trade their harvests.

“With our pipeline of products, and our commitment to open innovation, we are applying the downstream requests and emerging demands to shape our product development process. Through our CoNNEXT service, we can translate the consumer interests into the design properties of our products,” says Wendelyn Jones, Corteva’s global leader for food chain and brand protection.

“A key example within Corteva is our healthy oil offering. Through traditional plant breeding, we developed an improved fatty acid profile in canola, with zero trans fats and low saturated fats.”

The new technology was named Omega-9 canola oil, due to high levels of its namesake omega-9 monounsaturated fats. In 1996, the technology became commercially available as Nexera canola seed. This has allowed farmers and customers to choose between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM platforms, Jones notes.

“Strong value chains embrace new technologies and proven products. Strong value chains respect diversity in production practices. Why? Because strong value chains are resilient. They understand the importance of balance and focus on the standards and quality of the end product.”

"By bringing in outside expertise — people who have different ways of looking at things — we were able to speed that up and create something new in possibly a fraction of the time."

Going to the Crowd

Digitization makes the challenge of global food security less daunting. Forecasters with access to detailed, up-to-the-minute information from growing regions can sound a timely alarm over safety issues, weather conditions and other developments that could disrupt food supplies. And as technology reduces waste and increases output at each stage of food production, the odds of feeding the world's growing population improve.

The good news is that around the world, surprising new collaborations are manifesting in countless different ways. “Food is inherently something that brings people together, and a lot of partnerships are needed right now,” says Emilie Englehard, the senior director for external affairs at the Fair Food Network, an organization working to enhance food economies. “Right now, you’re going to find that there are a dynamic group of partners at the table with these issues, finding common ground.”

Last year, when Corteva needed to find a new way to analyze data points, it used a novel method of collaboration to find a new algorithm to better allow it to do so.

“We deal with a lot of data every year. When we do genotyping we hit a billion data points a year. These points are looked at by humans. You can picture them literally as points on your screen. It’s very laborious and very boring,” says Mathias Müller, director of open innovation, technology acquisition & licensing for Corteva.

“We developed an algorithm that does it automatically. This algorithm works with a certain success rate, at the time around 85%. That wasn’t sufficient.”

So, Corteva turned to InnoCentive, an open innovation and crowd sourcing platform, to solicit new algorithms that would allow it to surpass the 85% standard they had set but which wasn’t getting the job done.

The idea for InnoCentive came to founders Alph Bingham and Aaron Schacht in 1998 while working at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, during a brainstorming session exploring the application of the Internet to business. InnoCentive was launched in 2001 and allows businesses to post challenges that InnoCentive’s network of problem solvers are then invited to help tackle.

“People who signed up to the challenge tried to find an algorithm better than ours. After a couple of months we had 29 submissions. We selected six that we eventually narrowed down to one. We awarded the creator and we have it in hand now and use it in our processing every day,” Müller says.

“Under a closed innovation model, we would have kept this secret and had our own internal team work on it for who knows how long. By bringing in outside expertise — people who have different ways of looking at things — we were able to speed that up and create something new in possibly a fraction of the time. Now, instead of going to our scientists and saying, ‘We have a problem, fix it,’ we say, ‘Do you have a problem? Is there something that has been nagging you for awhile and do you want to post it online and have the crowd help solve it?”

Change Consumers, Change the World

Imagine a woman named Vivian. Vivian wants to make a salad for dinner tonight. She stands in front of the refrigerated produce bin at the grocery store, contemplating her choices. There are loose, dewy heads of iceberg lettuce, romaine hearts sold in sealed plastic bags, and clamshells filled with assorted triple-washed greens. She examines one after another, and finally takes out her phone. She scans the QR code on a label of pre-washed torn greens, and with a satisfied nod tosses it in the cart and heads toward the stack of strawberries.

Vivien is part of a growing cohort of consumers who want to be able to trace the sources of the food they feed their families all the way back to the farm. Mintel, a global market research company, named traceability — the ability to see where food comes from, what it’s made with, and by whom — one of the five most important food and drink trends for 2018.

According to Mintel, the trend is fueled by “widespread distrust” in how our food is made, the “need for reassurance about the safety and trustworthiness” of food, and the increasing use of natural, ethical and environmental claims on packaging. Other consumer research points out that over half of consumer purchases are driven by health, safety, social impact and experience — all of which require transparency and traceability.

The health factor is a big one. Dana Bolden, vice-president of external affairs and sustainability for Corteva, was recently at a meeting of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, whose mission is to achieve increased daily consumption of fruits and vegetables for better health by leveraging private industry and public sector resources, motivating key consumer influencers, and promoting fruits and vegetables directly to consumers. It has a large membership of dieticians.

“Why would Corteva be at a dieticians’ conference? That’s how you understand how consumer trends come about and why people purchase the food they do. It allows us to go back to our team that manages our pipelines and say, ‘If we don’t focus on meeting this consumer preference profile, our farmer customers who put this seed in the ground and care for it until it becomes produce, won’t be able to do their job of feeding the world,” Bolden says.

Bolden has worked in communications for a long time and knows firsthand that influencing public opinion is essential to ensuring we build a resilient food system.

“Being at the table with independent groups that don’t have a vested interest in whether or not Corteva does well financially is very helpful for us. They educate their stakeholders but they also give us info we can take back and look at,” he says. “We don’t think of open innovation just on the science and technology side, but on the operations and relationships side as well.”

Those relationships extend to an area like the acceptance of new technology in Europe. In 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) in Luxembourg ruled that gene-edited crops should be subject to the same stringent regulations as products created using GM technology.

“We are disappointed that the European Court of Justice interpreted the provisions in the EU’s Biotechnology Directive in such a way that plants developed with innovative, targeted mutagenesis technologies should be treated as GMOs and subject to the respective onerous regulatory provisions in the EU,” Teslenko says.

“The Court’s decision effectively cuts off European plant breeders, researchers, innovators and small and medium size European seed companies from scientific progress,” he adds. “Subjecting plant breeding innovations to undue regulatory burden will have a direct effect on efforts to build a more sustainable and resilient agriculture by depriving European farmers, consumers and the wider agri-food chain, of a range of important benefits.”

A seed or plant produced with CRISPR gene editing does not insert DNA from another species but rather only edits a very precise location of existing DNA in a crop.

“We also recognize that concerns around innovation and technology must be considered and addressed. Corteva believes that frank and transparent discussions about new technologies will help consumers understand their many applications and benefits, for farmers, retailers and consumers,” Teslenko says.

“We are proud to support farmers with their offering of tools that combine targeted breeding, right-sized crop protection, and precision agriculture. We are committed to innovation that maximizes yield and crop quality, while ensuring sustainability throughout the value chain.”

For Bolden, the challenge now is to try and get a series of uniform decisions across EU member states. He’s encouraged that the tide could still turn when it comes to innovation and the use of technology in Europe.

“What’s happened is something rarely seen in Europe — farmers are banding together and telling EU member state leaders that that the decision was flat out wrong, and they need to be more open to plant breeding and biotech in order for them to feed their country,” he says.

“It’s mobilized European farmers in a way we haven’t seen for quite some time. It’s created alliances I don’t think we could have created had we not been handed this decision.

Igor Teslenko

CRISPR to the Rescue

Agriculture is at a crossroads. Plants are under attack from changing weather, drought, floods, heat waves, diseases and pests. At the same time, the world population is growing and consumers are increasingly demanding food that is healthier for their families and the planet. This means we need to grow more food that is better for people and the environment using fewer resources.

CRISPR gene editing can create an improved plant that does not include DNA from a different species. CRISPR makes it possible to deliver nutritious plants that could occur in nature or be developed through conventional breeding, but faster and more efficiently.

“For us, the focus on CRISPR technology is a perfect fit with the concept of open innovation. One of the things we can do is provide some tools based on our capabilities that might help a partner or collaborator test their idea more quickly. We’ve invested quite a bit in the core technologies for gene editing. Partnering with others who have great ideas in this area holds so much potential,” Gutterson says.

Imagine producing food with higher nutritional value. Imagine healthier cooking oils, avocados that last longer because they don’t brown as fast, tomatoes that are good for your heart and taste great regardless of the season, and seeds that are more resistant to pathogens and pests.

It's all possible with gene editing, and for Teslenko, it underpins Corteva’s future success as a global pure-play agriculture company.

“This breakthrough tool has the potential to help solve major crop challenges, including addressing disease and the effects of climate change on plants.”

A recent United Nations report on food security from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) sounds the warning in no uncertain terms — production of key staple crops such as corn, rice, potatoes, sugar cane and sorghum, among others, is under increasing threats related to climate change, and may have to “shift to higher altitudes and latitudes as temperatures rise.”

“Without nutritious and safe food, no one can grow or achieve their full potential. Hungry and malnourished people are focused on their next meal, they are not focused on bringing forward innovation and disruption."

It sounds simple, but it’s a humanitarian disaster in the making for farmers whose livelihoods depend on current growing patterns and people whose food supply “shifts” hundreds or thousands of miles away from their dinner tables.

Sorghum, which feeds a half billion people in Africa and South Asia, is a particularly instructive case, as it has often been suggested as a heat-tolerant alternative to vulnerable wheat and maize crops. But even this drought-resistant crop can be affected: A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences projects a 10% drop in the sorghum harvest with each rise of 1C in average temperatures around the world.

Shrinking harvest projections are common across the most important staple foods grown around the world. According to the FAO, three of them — rice, corn, and wheat — supply 60% of the world’s consumable calories. When you apply the commonly agreed-on multipliers of crop loss — between 5% and 15% for every 1C the average global temperature rises — you quickly reach a situation where desperate populations must migrate in search of food, and farmers seek out arable land or new, more resilient crop varieties, or perish in place.

“Without nutritious and safe food, no one can grow or achieve their full potential. Hungry and malnourished people are focused on their next meal, they are not focused on bringing forward innovation and disruption,” says Wendelyn Jones. “With the local and global challenges we face, including hunger, we need all of humankind focused on providing solutions.”

The scope and complexity of the global food system requires the commitment of large-scale global enterprises, devoting significant resources and R&D, to create real sustained change, Teslenko says.

“Our global footprint now enables us to bring solutions to places that we haven’t been able to be before, like Malawi, where droughts and floods have devastated corn production and caused ongoing, severe famine for millions of inhabitants.”

Corteva has struck a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development that brings its innovations to the smallholder farmers’ doorstep.

As he looks at the food security and sustainability challenges the world is facing, Teslenko sees many opportunities to innovate and address those challenges.

“How about using gene editing technology to create rice that can be dry seeded? With water and labor in short supply in India, the paddy method of rice cultivation is not efficient and the impact on greenhouse gases is significant. But CRISPR can enable better adapted varieties for dry seeding of rice — significantly reducing water usage and labor needs and also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Corteva has struck a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development that brings its innovations to the smallholder farmers’ doorstep. The collaboration will help smallholder farmers gain access to some of Corteva’s best agricultural innovations, such as advanced seed and crop technologies, at an affordable price.

The success of smallholder farmers has a ripple effect throughout their communities and countries: creating opportunity for others to pull themselves out of poverty and making their countries more food-secure and resilient. These farmers and their communities are growing customers of, and contributors to, global supply-chains.

“Last week we were in Ethiopia and saw firsthand the benefits of this partnership. For me, that was particularly gratifying because Ethiopia isn’t a market we were looking to increase our presence in,” Bolden says.

“That’s one of the most recent examples of how we used the open innovation concept and got together with a group like USAID to understand these farmers’ challenges and come up with a solution that worked for everyone.”

"I hate to the use the cliché 'it’s not your grandfather’s ag', but the kids are pretty much saying that."

But for Bolden and Corteva Agriscience, the ultimate solution lies not in what can be done today to feed the world, but what can be done tomorrow and for generations to come. Youth are everything, and that’s why Corteva is sponsoring the Farmfluencer contest in partnership with 4-H.

Farmfluencer is a global video competition, empowering youth and connecting them with farming. By making a two-minute video about the future of farming, young people 16-21 get to share their point of view with the world and enter for a chance to win up to $5,000.

Winners will be announced June 17, 2019.

“The kids spend a day with a farmer, find out their biggest challenge, shoot a two-minute smartphone video, and tell us how the farmer is overcoming those challeneges in their market. I hate to the use the cliché it’s not your grandfather’s ag, but the kids are pretty much saying that,” Bolden says.

“They’re finding ag has unlimited potential in terms of job growth and the ability to shape your own world. In ag, the world is your oyster and there are so many new areas of agriculture that appeal to these kids — vertical farming, traditional farming. It’s mind-blowing. Some of the European submissions we’ve seen show kids talking about the advantages of biotech, in fact. These kids are so far ahead of where I thought they would be in terms of their positions on biotech in Europe. The future is definitely exciting.”

What is Open Innovation?

Open innovation, for Corteva Agriscience, is the exact opposite of a traditional “closed” innovation system by which most companies operate, says Neal Gutterson. Rather than a closed system of innovation that favours internal collaborations that take place in their own silos, Corteva uses a model of open innovation that sees them:

• Collaborate with thought leaders and innovators around the world to access and develop the most innovative technologies; and

• Rapidly deploying those innovative technologies through organizations that are good stewards of those technologies


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