Our planet faces unprecedented food security challenges. Some estimate that we will have to grow twice as much food in the next 30 years as we do today to keep up with demand while using fewer resources.

I’ve heard the question: can we feed a growing population—a world that is set to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050—without genetically modified crops? I think the answer is more complicated than a yes or a no. While GMOs have made it possible for farmers to grow better harvests using land, water and energy more efficiently, GMOs alone cannot feed the world. To meet the food security and climate challenges we face, farmers need access to every available innovation. That’s where modern agriculture comes in.

Data analysis, artificial intelligence, gene editing and microbials are now everyday ag terminology. These emerging tools have ushered in what I call the next wave of modern agriculture. A wave that allows farmers to employ more technology to farm smarter using fewer natural resources.

At The Wall Street Journal’s recent Global Food Forum, I had the opportunity to discuss “the next big thing” in agricultural biotechnology. In my mind, the next big thing is not just one thing. The next big thing is how these new modern agriculture technologies will work together to give farmers what they need to farm more efficiently and effectively.

Hugh Grant, Chairman and CEO of Monsanto, at The Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum.

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Hugh Grant, Chairman and CEO of Monsanto, at The Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum.

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For the past several decades, modern farming has been largely defined by advances in a few key areas—breeding, biotechnology and crop protection – all of which continue to evolve and provide tremendous benefits. But today, tablets and connected equipment help farmers translate generations worth of wisdom into precise, actionable insights to guide decisions throughout the growing season, year after year. The precision that comes with having data at your fingertips allows farmers to optimize applications of fertilizer and pesticides, and to predict their harvests based on parameters like soil composition, weather and inputs.  Advances in digital technology are influencing farmers more than ever before.

What can we accomplish when we combine real-time data with artificial intelligence to deliver deeper insights to farmers?  What can we do when we combine breeding, biotechnology, gene editing and microbials to maximize a plant’s potential? In the years ahead, emerging technologies will expand our definition of modern agriculture and will deliver exponential benefits to farmers, the environment and society when combined with other tools. 

When we use all the innovations at our disposal to create solutions, we can make tremendous progress in helping farmers achieve their goals of growing enough healthy food while conserving the earth’s precious resources.  And that means real progress for all of us.