How to improve the future of food and agriculture – Jack Bobo

How to improve the future of food and agriculture – Jack Bobo

“I want us all to imagine that we are in 2050, and we’re looking back on this moment, this day, and we ask ourselves: did we do everything that we could do to make the world the place that we want it to be?”

Jack Bobo, CEO of Futurity, opened his keynote presentation at the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience with a challenging question for the audience. If our mission is for a better future of food and agriculture, what can we do to achieve this? The answer begins with a simple yet effective solution: we need to listen to the narratives surrounding these industries.

“We give meaning to the world around us through the stories that we tell… so today in my presentation, I’d like to talk about three different stories of what food and agriculture means.”

The three stories Bobo focused on were those of:

  1. Conservationists.
  2. Consumers.
  3. Farmers.

These three groups of people have one goal: a plentiful future of food and agriculture. However, these three groups tend to actively work against each other. But why is that?

Starting with conservationists and the planet

In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report documented that 60% of wildlife populations on the planet have disappeared between 1970 and 2014. We also know that 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in the last 50 years.

“So, this dramatic loss in biodiversity has occurred within the lifetimes of many of us,” said Bobo. “Biodiversity is undergoing this incredible challenge, and things are not looking good.”

According to these findings, the future will suffer the same trend of degrading biodiversity.

“So, we have this tremendous challenge of not destroying all of our wild spaces,” said Bobo. However, the bigger question is, “How do we make sure that we leave a world for our children that’s as good or better than the one we received?”

Many people wonder: Is agriculture the problem or solution to our conservation struggles? People tend to believe the former, yet Bobo is not convinced.

“But how do we talk about it?” asked Bobo. “What’s the story that we need to tell?”

The stories we hear about biodiversity tell us that:

  1. Of global respondents, 80% believe that poverty has either increased or remained the same over the past 20 years.
  2. The food system is broken, and agriculture is failing the people around us.
  3. All deforestation is due to agriculture.
  4. We do not have the means to feed the rapidly growing population.

The stories we need to tell about biodiversity are that:

  1. Statistically, there is less poverty than there was 20 years ago — “Yet the public,” said Bobo, “think things are getting worse.”
  2. We are producing more food on the same amount of land than we were 50–60 years ago — “This is important,” said Bobo. “If food production stays ahead of population growth, well, that means people become better fed, they rise out of poverty, nutrition and hunger disease.”
  3. Better productivity and higher yields mean more food is being produced due to higher efficiency — “Improved productivity has saved a billion hectares of forest around the world. So more than a quarter of all the forest — nearly a third of all the forest — would be gone today without productivity increases.”
  4. The rate of population growth was at its highest in 1968 when we were growing at 2.1% per year. However, today we are growing at about 1% per year. As we continue to project toward the future, that number will keep going down. Because population growth will slow dramatically but, “if that productivity was to continue, every day after 2050, it gets easier to feed the world,” said Bobo.

“And so, I want to look at this question of sustainability, and how it impacts the stories we tell about the world we live in,” explained Bobo.

Diving into sustainability with consumers

Bobo says that sustainability is not a destination — it is a journey. However, sustainability means different things to different people. Is it organic food? Regenerative agriculture? GMOs? Consumers, in particular, seem the most concerned about sustainability in agriculture.

The stories we hear about sustainability are that:

  1. Farmers need to use less fertilizer and insecticide in order to reduce run-off into the local environment.
  2. We need to farm organically.
  3. Europe has pushed to intensive agriculture and is reducing the amount of fertilizer they use and the size of their farms. This should be a global initiative.

The stories we need to tell about sustainability are that:

  1. It is a challenge for farmers to use less insecticide and fertilizer because it means that they will probably produce less food — “If you produce less food on that farm, that means you’re going to need more farms,” explained Bobo.
  2. Organic agriculture produces 20–30% less food. If the whole world farmed organically, we would need to dedicate another 20­–30% to farms, and 40% of all the land on earth is already allocated to agriculture. This would have a devastating impact, according to Bobo, including the loss of our forests.
  3. Europe practices intensive agriculture but also imports 70% of its animal feed needs. Most of their imports come from Brazil, the country with the greatest level of deforestation — “So, in many ways, Europe has exported its environmental footprint to arguably the most biodiverse country on the planet,” said Bobo.

No matter how you dissect it, it is clear that we have a problem: we need to produce more food. The Food and Agriculture Organization states that we are going to need 50–60% more food by 2050, but why is that the case if we are only going to see about 20% more people? This is directly due to an improvement in income and overall wellbeing, and when people are making money and feeling well, they buy more animal protein. Yet more protein means more crops to feed animals, hence, a spike in food production.

“The former director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, once said that the amount of food that needs to be produced in the next 40 or 50 years is equivalent to the amount of food that was produced in the last 10,00 years,” explained Bobo. “Let me repeat that. The amount of food we need to produce in the next 40 or 50 years is greater than the amount of food produced in the last 10,000 years of human civilization.”

The challenge is daunting, and while agriculture is getting better, it is not getting better fast enough.

There are no silver bullets to solve this challenge, but we do know that we need to increase our food production as sustainably as possible.

Bobo explored possible solutions, such as:

  • Shifting diets: Many people believe that becoming a vegan or vegetarian is the solution to the problem. It is important to think about changing our diets to improve our health, but is this the way to also improve the environment? — “It’s not going to solve all of our problems,” said Bobo. He further explained that, even if the United States and Europe shifted their diets completely, people from low-income countries will be making more money in the next 30 years, which means they will be eating more protein. “So, shifting diets is important, but it can’t solve the problem all by itself.”
  • Food waste: A third of all food produced is lost to food waste. In developed countries, a third of food is wasted post-consumer. But, in third-world countries, food is wasted because of loss in the fields, supply chain and storage — “If we could somehow address that third of food that’s lost through food waste, then that would get us most of the way to our challenge,” explained Bobo. However, there are so many types of food waste (storage, distribution, consumer, field) and food waste issues with different products (tomatoes, soybeans, corn, cantaloupes) that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the issue.
  • Technology: There are high-tech solutions, like gene editing and genetic engineering, and abundant ag-tech data that proves cover crops produce a higher return on investment and a lower environmental footprint.
  • Alternative proteins: “Of course, these alternative proteins are part of the solution,” said Bobo. “The problem we have, though, is that companies that are producing these different products… they’re talking about them as the solution. That plant-based proteins can eliminate livestock. That cell-based agriculture is going to make dairy obsolete.” This approach suggests that there is a silver-bullet solution to a really complex problem, “and as we’ve already discussed,” said Bobo, “there’s not one solution to the problem.” Bobo also notes that the protein market is a trillion-dollar opportunity and will only get bigger in 2050. “And so, who really believes that plant-based meat is going to become a trillion-dollar industry in just 30 years?” asked Bobo.

These solutions are all necessary for achieving sustainability. However, they have become competitors in the market rather than working together as a single solution. Bobo says we need to think about what the future will look like, and work toward opportunities instead of focusing on problems.

“We don’t need one solution,” explained Bobo. “We need them all.”

Actively working on these solutions with farmers is the best and most effective way to achieve the goals of conservationists and consumers.

Working with farmers

“I’m just happy that consumers and conservationists are now joining farmers on this journey of sustainability,” said Bobo. “Because we could use their help. Instead of framing it as agriculture is the problem to be solved, we need to help them to understand that agriculture is the solution to the problem.”

What we find from data collected by the World Resources Institute is that if agriculture continues to improve the way it has been, 60% of the gains we need to achieve a sustainable future will happen just by farmers continuing what they are already doing. The data also talks about incentivizing steps that will increase productivity and improve efficiency in:

  1. Livestock production.
  2. Reducing methane emissions.
  3. Using less fertilizer.

“Well, efficiency is something farmers want to do… So, these are huge opportunities. These are not challenges,” said Bobo.

However, if agriculture is the solution to our problem — the answer to improving the future of food — then why do we still hear that agriculture is the problem to be solved?

“Why do we talk about a broken food system when the food system was never not broken?” asked Bobo.

While it may be broken, Bobo assured the audience that the food system is better than it has ever been, and it will only continue to get better every day. But it is just not happening fast enough. Yet if we continue to spend our time spreading false stories and narratives about farmers being the problem, we cannot actively work with them toward a solution.

Organic agriculture may be critical to saving the planet, but it does not mean that genetic engineering and gene editing are not.

New alternative proteins are critical to saving the planet, but so are dairy farms and livestock production.

“It takes a menu of solutions to solve a problem,” explained Bobo.

Final thoughts

Bobo asked us an important question at the beginning of his presentation: Thirty years from now, will we be confident that we did everything that we could do to make the world the place that we want it to be?

Again, conservationists, consumers and farmers all want the same thing: a safe, plentiful and sustainable future of food and agriculture. The only way to achieve that goal is to start telling the same story, even if we are not always on the same page.

“Because if we do that,” said Bobo, “we all can save the planet.”

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Women in Food and Agriculture: Nikki Putman-Badding

Women in Food and Agriculture: Nikki Putman-Badding

Nikki Putnam-Badding photo

Nikki Putnam-Badding | Director of Acutia, Alltech

Nikki Putman-Badding was a fresh faced dietician, finishing grad school when she persuaded one of the biggest companies in agriculture to create a new role, just for her.

Three days at an Alltech conference left her “wide eyed” and convinced she had to work for the company. After hustling and networking, she was put in touch with her current mentor, Alltech’s global director of applications research, Becky Timmons.

“I was asked to write the job description for my role – the open-mindedness of Alltech to a young female, straight out of grad school, was amazing,” she says. 

After working in technical and sales support improving nutrition along the food supply chain, beginning with crops and animals Ms Putman moved up to lead the human health division a year ago.

Gender bias and making room at the table

Women face challenges and stereotyping, says Ms Putman, remembering a conference where the technicians prepared her to introduce her male colleague, assuming (wrongly) that he was the speaker.

But “diversity can broaden and deepen an industry,” says Ms Putman, and “it’s important to challenge bias and what a leader looks like. Don’t accept stereotyping or bias. Don’t be a bystander – lead by example – be part of the solution to make inclusivity, diversity and equality a priority in your organisation,” she says.

“Ask for clarification or an explanation of a comment, or if you feel your idea or opportunity for involvement were overlooked. Communicate the impact of the bias; by dealing with it directly you can ensure not only that your concern is heard, but allow space for effective and respectful communication.”

Dealing with gender bias involves greater awareness that it exists, and actively making room at the table for those who may be subject to it, says Ms Putman. All leaders need to do this.

“Male colleagues and leaders should counteract gender bias by acknowledging that stereotypes and both explicit and implicit biases exist – challenge yourself and your colleagues to monitor your internal and external dialogue and actions and choose to be part of the solution by recognising and correcting stereotyping and bias when it occurs.”

How women can pull each other up

Support from her mentor and other women, has been instrumental to her career, says Ms Putman. “I have been learning from females throughout my career. Many have mentored me throughout, without even knowing, because they acted as role models.

“A good leader fosters a diverse, inclusive workplace, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. In my experience, good female leaders tend be flexible, agile and confident in any situation. They have grace under pressure and take a team approach.

“My mentor, for example, has shown me the value of collaboration and creating relationships. She presents stability and agility and commands respect. She is fair across all genders – she sees a talented person and helps them. I’m forever grateful to her for giving me a seat at the table.”

Tips on career advancement

  • Seek out a mentor: Irrespective of gender or background, find someone who inspires you and ask for performance feedback, introductions to key decision-makers and advice on professional development. Reach out within your company, on social media or LinkedIn. Attend local or industry networking events and ask for recommendations. Some professional and trade organisations offer mentor matching.
  • Learn how your organisation works: Get to know the decision-makers and create relationships with other departments – look and ask for opportunities to collaborate
  • Be confident in what you know, but humble enough to know you haven’t got all the answers
  • Help colleagues succeed: The more you can share your own knowledge and skills to help others problem-solve, the more you’ll be asked to be involved.
  • Continuously learn from others: Ask to be part of meetings that will help you learn more about roles or projects adjacent to yours or that you aspire to be in or a part of.
  • Be prepared to explain why you are right for a role or project.
Women in Food and Agriculture: Nikki Putman-Badding

Women in Food and Agriculture: Jennifer Del Rio

Jennifer Del Rio photo

Jennifer Del Rio | Sales Manager, Alltech China

Around the world, women are integral to ensuring food security. As the industry becomes more advanced and entrepreneurial, the sector will be dominated by women who are more diverse, creative, and resilient.

Jennifer Del Rio grew up on a southern Philippine island dubbed ‘the land of promise’, where food is grown, harvested and consumed more cheaply than in other areas in the country. Her parents had a small farm producing broilers, layers and pigs, which provided food for the family and income for her education.

But she says it wasn’t until she’d done a philosophy degree and worked for a non-governmental project on improving crops and market access, that she fully grasped the challenges facing backyard farmers.

The experience was “like a treasure box being unlocked”, as she discovered her love for agriculture and the opportunities in the sector.

Now she works as Alltech’s sales manager in the Philippines, where she has been for six years. Her job involves spending a lot of time on-farm doing business with customers, from feed-millers, to commercial farmers, and dealers.

“I am a believer of we are what we ate, so with the innovations now in agriculture, we cannot just level-up our productivity, but must prosper by keeping our produce safe to eat and protect Mother Earth,” says Ms Del Rio.

 What are the main challenges facing agriculture?

Climate change and global warming are huge challenges, says Ms Del Rio, and education on this could “make or break” people coming together to tackle it.

Telling the story of Alltech’s ‘Planet of Plenty’ initiative, is one way to educate people, she says. The Planet of Plenty vision calls for a new era of collaboration across industry sectors and geographical boundaries, to create a place where animals, plants, and people thrive in harmony.

“It is also wise to see how we can improve performance at the farm level, to provide nutritious foods for consumers using the latest innovations,” she adds.

What role do women play in agriculture? How might this change?

“Globally, there is an empirical evidence that women have a decisive role in ensuring food security,” says Ms Del Rio.

“We all know that agriculture is an important engine of growth that can reduce poverty. Women’s roles in managing complex household and multiple livelihood strategies to sustain their families, are clearly shown.”

But women’s roles will change as society does and technology becomes more advanced, predicts Ms Del Rio.

“Online business that indirectly involves agricultural enterprises is slowly rising, and women are the one’s good at it,” she says. “Entrepreneurship in promoting advanced agricultural will soon be dominated by women who are more diverse, creative, and resilient.”

Where are the opportunities for women in the sector?

There are opportunities at all levels of food and agriculture, says Ms Del Rio. “Currently in the Philippines, we have Filipina farmers, Filipina chefs, Filipina managers in FMCG and a lovely Filipina preparing food for every filipino family table.

“I believe that when we have a strong network of women in these sectors, we have a strong family, which is a basic unit in society, and a basic force in the agricultural and food industry.”

How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in our industry?

“I can’t think of a better way to inspire women than to tell my story,” says Ms Del Rio. “I believe my story is a testament to how agriculture and food provide us opportunities to be in school, to complete degrees, to start livelihoods, and learn from companies about maximising produce and marketing.”

What should agribusinesses be doing better?

“Getting everyone involved, including the young – that is the best way to further agriculture. That way food and the future are interconnected, so that these important sectors continue feeding the new breed of heroes, farmers and food producers.”

Women in Food and Agriculture: Nikki Putman-Badding

Alltech’s Lori Stevermer: Women Make Agriculture Better

Lori Stevermer photo

Lori Stevermer | Marketing Manager for Hubbard Feeds, part of the Alltech Feed Division

Growing up on her family farm in Minnesota, Lori Stevermer was destined to make a difference both on and off the farm. From her childhood involvement in the local 4H to working at a feed company after college and meeting her husband (a fellow hog farmer)—agriculture is in her blood.“I often get asked, ‘how long have you been doing it?’ I just kind of say, ‘forever.’ It’s just my life, it’s what I do so it seems very natural.”

Now, Lori is the marketing manager for Hubbard Feeds, part of Alltech’s feed division. She has worked in the feed industry for over 30 years, and attributes her career path largely to her upbringing. However, with only 2% of the population actively involved in agriculture, Lori says the pool of talent coming into the industry can and should come from all types of backgrounds. A point she makes when presenting at schools and speaking to young kids about careers in ag—highlighting technology, engineering, science, and some other aspects of agriculture that aren’t always known to those unfamiliar with the business.

“When you look at the expanded agribusiness, we need those bright minds and people that are willing to ask questions and work—and they can come from anywhere. So, I think just letting people know that you don’t have to be from a farm to be in agriculture, that’s a big message that we need to get out there.”

And a big part of that talent pool needs to include women. “I think there’s opportunity everywhere within agriculture.” Both on the farm and off the farm—there are no limitations.

“We [women] do bring a different perspective. We view situations differently; we tend to be more collaborative in the way we approach things. We need our type of skill sets and our type of problem-solving abilities in agriculture. It just makes agriculture better.”

“I think back to when I first started in the feed business and there weren’t too many of us female sales representatives so certainly as more of us get involved with the industry, I think that’s more encouraging.”

Lori is a former president of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association and is a current board member of the National Pork Producers Council, which she says was a natural progression in her career and has helped her in her commitment to serving the industry that she grew up in. It’s also a place to meet knowledgeable individuals that share the same passion.

“That really encourages me and inspires me to do better and to be involved. That would be my word of advice or encouragement to others, to get involved, because I think the saying is the world is run by those who show up. So, if you feel strongly about something, show up and get involved.”

And not only is her presence on the board enhancing the industry, but it’s also paving the way for younger women.

“What was interesting was when I got on the NPPC board, I had a couple of younger ladies come up to me and tell me they were so glad to see another woman on the board. I hadn’t really thought about that—it wasn’t why I ran. I ran because I love the industry and I love to get involved but having them make those comments to me was very humbling.”

As they say, empowered women empower women.

“You walk down that path and make that path a little bit bigger for the next person. Everybody just follows along and it becomes maybe a little less rocky. Although it’s never going to be perfect, but it’s just a more comfortable path. There’s more of  you walking and you feel more comfortable there.”

Quite simply, women play an important role in agriculture. “The encouraging thing is that we continue to see more women involved in agriculture.”

More than 50% of all U.S agriculture students are women.  And as their careers progress, they’ll be involved in more management positions and leading those companies. That will change agriculture because it will make it more inclusive.”

Lori’s story and more from real women working in food and agriculture can be found at: In 2019, we’re celebrating the women who work to feed the world—shining a light on female leaders in the industry. Get involved—and join us at the Women in Food and Agriculture summit in Amsterdam, December 3-4, 2019. 


Is agriculture feeding the world — or destroying it? Discussing climate change, greenhouse gases and livestock emissions with Dr. Frank Mitloehner

Is agriculture feeding the world — or destroying it? Discussing climate change, greenhouse gases and livestock emissions with Dr. Frank Mitloehner

Farming is often a thankless job; the hours are long, the paycheck is not very impressive, and vacation and family time are frequently sacrificed. With the population expected to triple by 2050, farmers must now face the daunting task of feeding a rapidly growing world. But misinformation is spreading like wildfire, including false data claiming that agriculture — specifically livestock — is the biggest cause of climate change. So, how are farmers expected to feed the masses when some of the food they provide is under attack?

Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at the University of California–Davis, presented on this topic at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE19), and his message was clear: agriculture and farmers are the solution, not the problem, and it is our duty to educate the masses with the truth about agricultural emissions.

What about fossil fuels?

“First and foremost,” said Dr. Mitloehner, “I do believe that climate change is happening.”

Dr. Mitloehner explained that companies producing and selling plant-based meats benefit from spreading the lie that agriculture has the highest global warming potential (GWP). Unfortunately, the real threat to climate change — fossil fuels — is overshadowed by the media’s war on livestock.

“Fossil fuels are the main contribution to man-made climate change,” said Dr. Mitloehner, noting that fossil fuels in the United States produce 11 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Animal and plant agriculture in the United States, on the other hand, produce only 1.1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

This stream of misinformation has spiraled so out of control, noted Dr. Mitloehner, that people are directing their frustrations toward the wrong culprit. How can we not only support the agricultural sector but also help clear its name?

Three truths about agricultural emissions

1)     The methane produced by livestock is vastly different from the greenhouse gases created by fossil fuels. Dr. Mitloehner broke down the creation of these emissions by livestock:

  1. Plants take CO2 from the atmosphere
  2. Cows eat these plants
  3. Cows belch methane
  4. Methane is in the atmosphere for 10 years before turning into CO2
  5. The cycle repeats

This continuous cycle helps keep the balance between the atmosphere, plants and cows. Alternatively, fossil fuels like oil and coal are taken from the ground, burned and subsequently released into the atmosphere without any sustainable contribution to the planet.

2)    Herd size has decreased over the past 200 years, said Dr. Mitloehner. Additionally, since 1975, the number of beef and dairy herds has decreased, which means that our methane emissions are also decreasing. In 1940, there were 140 million head of beef in the United States; today, there are only 90 million head. Notably, however, the same amount of beef (24 million tons) was produced in both 1970 and 2010, meaning that, over the years, we have begun accomplishing the same amount of beef with fewer cattle.

“This is thanks to improved fertility, health and genetics,” explained Dr. Mitloehner, who went on to argue that we should focus on better and more efficient livestock health than on livestock elimination.

3)     According to Dr. Mitloehner, there are two types of agricultural land. Two-thirds of the land can be defined as marginal land, which crops cannot be grown on for various reasons, such as poor soil or water restraints. As such, marginal land is used for ruminant livestock. The other one-third is arable land, which is ideal for crops. When others suggest that we halt livestock production, they are really suggesting the abandonment of usable land. With the population growing so quickly, Dr. Mitloehner asked, would it really be wise to ignore such a valuable resource?

“How can we feed three times the people (that currently inhabit the earth) in our lifetime if we aren’t using all the land we can to produce food?” he added.

Agriculture ambassadors

To put it bluntly, agriculture has been the target of gossip; numbers have been skewed, media coverage has been exaggerated and farmers have been misrepresented.

“Unfortunately, for the longest time, this industry didn’t have data to show what their impact was,” said Dr. Mitloehner. “So, the notion was (that) you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

By utilizing Dr. Mitloehner’s expertise, however, we can become ambassadors of agriculture, farmers and the truth about agriculture’s contributions to climate change. With the population expected to triple by 2050, the question of how to feed the world remains — and we should thank our farmers for being part of the solution to that problem.