Sustainability is a challenge. But one that can be met with innovation.

By Giuseppe Natale, Co-Founder and CEO at Valagro

Giuseppe Natale
“Today Valagro is engaged in addressing some of the biggest challenges facing humanity: rising population, need for more productivity, environmental sustainability, climate change.” – Giuseppe Natale, Valagro

 

Originally published on Linkedin

I was captivated by this fascinating field when I was still in my youth. My family ran a small commercial operation in the agricultural sector in a beautiful part of Abruzzo, Italy — with snow covered mountains, green valleys and the beautiful Adriatic coast. It is a place that still has a culture of appreciation for quality cuisine. By the age of 15, I was splitting my time between mixing and spinning as the local DJ, and mixing fertilizer bags and listening to grower’s pains and joys out in the field. By the age of 20, I had realized that growers and the world could benefit from more innovation in agriculture. And when one has an idea, one can either do something about it or watch others do it. So, my passion for my idea pushed me to become an entrepreneur. From that point on, I went full force working to carve out a space between traditional crop protection chemical products and crop nutrition chemicals. At the time, those two together almost completely dominated our sector, both in terms of sales and available solutions. And it’s in this space between the chemical giants that now you find biostimulants. They are bio-based products that strengthen the natural growth of plants while minimizing environmental impact, and increasing grower productivity. Biostimulants are what eventually has become a “third way” between an excessive use of chemicals – not sustainable in the long term; and, a total return to our primal agriculture – insufficient for satisfying current needs for more and healthier food.

Biostimulants represent a first response to the need to unite innovation and sustainability. While our industry now widely appreciates the benefits of biostimulants, getting to this point was neither easy nor quick. I would say the work still goes on. The first years of Valagro’s pioneering journey were intense. With every innovation, there also comes some disruption and challenges. Luckily, I wasn’t alone as Valagro’s CEO. I had by my side a great partner, Mr. Ottorino La Rocca – Valagro co-founder, who is also our Chairman. As well as, today, a team of great professionals with rich career and personal backgrounds across multiple disciplines and from many parts of the globe.

In the meantime, the world has changed and today Valagro is engaged in addressing some of the biggest challenges facing humanity: rising population, need for more productivity, environmental sustainability, climate change. All issues that are inter-related and keenly affect the world of agriculture, food production, as well as ultimately our daily lives.

Indeed, the constant increase in the global population – by 2050 there will be almost 10 billion people on earth – will lead to even greater demand for food. But not only any food. People will demand more nutritious and healthy food. Already today, every evening almost a billion people in the world go to bed hungry, while others suffer from a multitude of chronic diseases, many of which linked to poor quality diet.

The good news is that thanks to science, in particular thanks to the development of quality seeds, the use of agrochemicals, fertilizers and biostimulants, but also to new irrigation systems and innovative tools, in the last 50 years productivity per hectare has doubled. The Malthusian Theory of 1798, according to which at the then prevailing population growth rates the world would eventually be unable to feed itself, has thus far been refuted.

But we are not quite there yet. Because all this comes at a price. Agriculture is responsible for 25% of CO2 emissions. It consumes 70% of fresh water. It needs energy, and this requirement also conflicts with the gradual depletion of fossil fuels. Not to mention tropical deforestation, which takes places at the pace of about 13 million hectares a year. That is not sustainable.

On one hand, we must be more productive, on the other, more sustainable. The challenge we’re facing today isn’t that of only producing more food but doing so more efficiently. That which in the last 50 years was called “the green revolution” is no longer enough. And the food we produce needs to be healthy. We need to do more. We at Valagro firmly believe that businesses have a major role to play in saving the planet and everyday hundreds of our employees across all continents go to work and out in the field with this great responsibility in mind.

How to resolve this situation? How to reconcile productivity and sustainability? There are those who suggest turning the clock back, with a real return to the past, perhaps without chemistry, without technology. It’s a solution that may sound romantic to many, but is simply not feasible. I doubt that going back to horses and carts will do the job. We would need to double the agricultural land to produce the same quantity of food.

For me, there’s only one answer to this growing complexity — innovation. Using science and technology in an informed and intelligent way. It’s what we at Valagro have tried to do for the last 40 years, focusing extensively on scientific research, with the objective of satisfying the needs of farmers and having as small as an environmental impact as possible.

It’s clear that innovation will be the distinctive feature of the agriculture of the future. As farming must face up to the challenges highlighted earlier, the joint adoption of new solutions and new technologies will be decisive to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of crops. At Valagro we like to say “doing more with less”. Innovation underlies the development of new products like biostimulants, biofertilizers and biocontrol products as well as new systems of analysis and diagnosis that strengthen their effectiveness like precision agriculture. It’s through the alliance of technologies and expertise that we can achieve great results: producing more and better while improving social, economic and environmental sustainability. This is the challenge that we are passionate about and that we want to continue to pursue. And to those young people out there who care about this planet, and about biotechnology, and information technology, agbiologicals are a great home for a dynamic and fascinating carrier.

Starting with water sustainability – Talete by Valagro

To meet the growing needs of the world population we must radically change the way in which water is used, managed and shared, especially in agriculture, which alone is responsible for 70% of global freshwater consumption. Talete concretely represents Valagro’s mission to create a sustainable future for people and nature; in line with our mission, and in response to the appeal of international organizations such as FAO on creating innovative technical means for sustainable food production, we have put the best of our research and innovation, the result of the GeaPower technology platform, at the service of agriculture, with the aim of making it increasingly productive and at the same time increasingly efficient.

Thanks to Talete, Valagro is able to provide a viable solution to farmers around the world to get the most out of their crops by optimizing the use of an increasingly precious resource, water.

Giuseppe Natale will speak at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit on “De-Mystifying the Science & Growth Potential of Plant Biostimulants“. His colleague Roberta Vinciguerra, Global Product Management Director at Valagro, will also speak on the panel “Smart Crop Nutrition: Can We Reduce Fertiliser Use Whilst Still Feeding the Planet?“. Both on day 2 of the summit (March 18, 2020).