Experts share insights of the ground-breaking research and tools being developed to prepare for and limit the effects of climate change in agriculture.

Better Decision with Data-Powered Farming

Ranveer Chandra - Microsoft - World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit“The agriculture and food system has a critical role to play in helping us get to net zero by 2050 as it is one of the biggest emitters of green house gases. Farmers will likely be the most impacted by climate change, since they are the least prepared to respond to any changes in the weather. However, agriculture can also be an important component of the solution to the problem. If farmers use the right agricultural practices, they can reduce their emissions, and also sequester more carbon in soil.

Data and AI can help us respond better to climate change and create a more resilient agri-food system. Data from the farm can help accurately estimate the emissions and climate impact of agriculture. AI on that data can help with climate adaptation, for example, by informing farmers about impending changes to weather, and helping the supply chain be more prepared. Moreover, data and AI can empower farmers with tools, such as what-if analysis and simulation capabilities, to drive adoption of regenerative agriculture technologies, that are better for the planet, while also profitable for the farmers.” Ranveer Chandra, Managing Director, Research for Industry, CTO Agri-Food, MICROSOFT

“A large part of it will be better capturing and distributing best practices for climate-positive land management. There is a wealth of data being generated through ARPA-E’s SMARTFARM program, as well as USDA and other research organizations, but it needs to be made actionable. A necessary first step toward actionable data is filling the geospatial and/or temporal data gaps to reach a resolution that is relevant to individual business decisions. Harmonizing and optimizing the use of remote imagery and local measurements is essential, but insufficient. We also need to direct current and future data campaigns toward the development of predictive capabilities that help us identify how climate change will impact what we grow and where we grow it. Both of these steps come with significant technical challenges; however, if we can overcome those challenges, we enable a data-driven feedback mechanism that allows us to adapt to the impacts of climate change while minimizing agriculture’s contributions to it.” David Babson, Program Director, ARPA-E

“We must accelerate action to transform our food and agriculture systems. However, much better data, predicative analysis, and access to advanced analytics are necessary to meet the challenge. New tools, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, can help us in several ways:

  • Informing adaptation plans and the transformation of food and agriculture systems. At present, especially in developing countries, we lack adequate analysis of the impacts of climate change on crop, livestock, and fisheries production systems. We need significantly more data, especially around smallholder production, and more research and analysis of crop and livestock viability. We also need stronger partnerships between public institutions such as Ministries of Agriculture, the research community, and agribusinesses to create a data and analytical ecosystem for agriculture that can inform robust and transformative adaptation pathways. As machine learning and artificial intelligence applications in agriculture advance, they are providing more and more opportunities to bring precision agricultural practices to smallholder farmers around the world, helping them manage their production and marketing better. At the same time, these applications are limited by the lack of good field-level ground truth data for machine learning models and a fragmented data ecosystem that limits innovation.
  • Managing supply chain risks. Farmers need stable and profitable markets with built-in mechanisms to manage the bad years and maximize the good years. Predictive analytics used for supply chain optimization, import and export planning, insurance and risk finance, and a range of other essential supply chain management functions are increasingly yielding results. At the regional and global level, predictive analytics built on the kind of granular farmer-focused analytics that are needed for farmers to manage their risks can help manage global supply chains, provide early warning of crop failures, and in the worst-case help the international community manage multi-breadbasket failures that are likely to become more frequent in our changing climate.” Richard Choularton, Director, Agriculture & Economic Growth, TETRA TECH

Harnessing Genomics for Adaptation

Vipula Shukla - BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION - World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit“Crop resilience to any kind of shock, including climate-related changes, is a nuanced system with multiple layers of control and compensation mechanisms. It’s really exciting and interesting to see efforts at using true AIs and machine learning to try and model this complexity in a way that’s predictive of crop “behavior” under different conditions. We know what’s coming with climate change, so the question is what kind of responses are crops capable of, and how do we enhance/accelerate their capacity to adapt more quickly? Perhaps one of the most underappreciated ways that CRISPR can help cope with agricultural challenges due to climate change is in the discovery of new traits and modes-of-action.  This has historically been a tough, one-at-a-time and risky endeavor.  Using CRISPR, researchers can more cheaply, rapidly and in parallel test multiple new gene hypotheses, create new alleles and validate them in the relevant crop. This applies to both conventional trait engineering as well as synthetic biology traits that are needed to cope with pests, weather volatility and long-term changes in agroecological conditions.” Vipula ShuklaSenior Program Officer, Agriculture R&D, THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION

“OveBradley Ringeisen, Executive Director, Innovative Genomics Instituter the next several decades, climate change will increase the variability and frequency of extreme weather events which will challenge agriculture in many ways including more frequent threats to crops like flooding, droughts, and exposure to emerging pathogens. We are already seeing CRISPR being used to make crops more resilient to climate change by creating varieties that are more tolerant to drought and require less irrigation, resist emerging pathogens, and are flood tolerant. Professor Brian Staskawicz, the IGI Director of Sustainable Agriculture, has developed a drought tolerant rice variety that reduces stomata density without negatively affecting photosynthesis or crop yields in laboratory testing. We will soon field test this variety in Columbia through an international partnership. IGI member Professor Pam Ronald at UC-Davis has created a flood-tolerant variety of rice that is now grown by millions of farmers around the world, often in poor or underserved regions of southeast Asia.

In the short-term future, I believe that drought tolerance and resistance to emerging pathogens will be the biggest impact CRISPR will have on agriculture. The world’s supply of chocolate is threatened by the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease, but the IGI is using CRISPR gene editing to create a variety of cocoa that fights off the virus. The banana is also under attack by a soil fungal pathogen fusarium wilt. I believe there are several pathways to create a variety of banana that is resistant to fusarium and possibly even engineer multiple resistance pathways to fight off future mutations of this pathogen.

A bit further into the future, I think we could dramatically improve yields (we have to feed a rapidly growing world population!) through several different CRISPR-mediated approaches. First, gene editing is currently being used throughout the world in several research labs to improve photosynthesis. The IGI is one of those organizations and Professor Dave Savage is using CRISPR to not only screen for new target genes to promote improved efficiencies but also in partnership with Professor Kris Niyogi and Peggy Lemaux for the direct editing of improved crop varieties as well. Both the carbon fixing mechanisms and the light reaction mechanisms are targets for improvement that could perhaps increase efficiencies or biomass yields by 30% or more. Additionally, you could imagine engineering the positive interactions between a crop and soil microbes to reduce fertilizer use (both nitrogen and phosphorus) and store more carbon, which not only increases soil fertility but also could potentially produce additional revenue to farmers through carbon credits. Recent published results by Professor Jennifer Doudna and Jill Banfield at the IGI have demonstrated that you can use CRISPR to directly edit microbes in complex communities. I envision a future world where you can not only improve plants and crops but also access currently unavailable metabolic functions of a wide variety of microbes in the soil or even the guts of methane emitting cows!

So the future is very exciting and full of possibilities. Climate resilience and mitigation as well as sustainable agriculture are tremendously complex and challenging problems, but I believe that CRISPR is just at the beginning of realizing its full potential to make an impact in these areas.” Bradley Ringeisen, Executive Director, INNOVATIVE GENOMICS INSTITUTE

Sam Eathington“CRISPR is a powerful tool with tremendous potential to help us address climate change. Climate change is increasingly putting pressure on food production and access, especially in vulnerable regions, undermining food security and nutrition. CRISPR is a tool that can help us meet these pressing challenges that there’s limited time to take action and tools like CRISPR are critical to move forward. However, one of the most important aspects required to bring new innovations like those developed with CRISPR to the market is a clear, transparent, and science-driven global regulatory landscape. Given the realities of global trade, it is important that we reach worldwide alignment on the regulatory status of gene edited crops so farmers and consumers can realize the benefits of the technology.  Many governments have been slow to define policy for these types of products, which has made it difficult to progress from R&D to commercialization. Science-based agriculture companies, such as Corteva Agriscience, need a clear path forward in regulatory policy development to unlock these new breeding technologies for the benefit of agriculture and society.

Corteva Agriscience is using CRISPR and other gene-editing tools to develop crops that are more nutritious, more resistant to pests and disease, and can tolerate extreme growing conditions like drought. Every day we strive to increase farmer productivity with better genetic solutions to increase harvestable yield and the nutritional quality of our core crops. We believe with gene editing and a science-based approach, we can help solve real challenges in global ag, creating a solution for climate-positive agriculture and increasing the capacity for a more resilient food system.” Sam Eathington, CTO, CORTEVA

Geeta SethiEnabling Access to Technologies

“Public-private partnerships will be critical to the adoption of technologies for smallholder farmers, especially working together to bolster the enabling environment. There remains a significant opportunity for the public sector to play a pivotal role in de-risking private sector participation and repurposing existing public expenditures to enable the adoption of technology for farmers in remote, rural regions. For this to happen, the sectors need to work together the better understand the limiting factors that are currently preventing the broader spread and adoption of technologies and to identify the exact role that the public sector can play to reduce the barriers to entry.” Geeta Sethi, Advisor and Global Lead for Food Systems, WORLD BANK


Ranveer, Sam, Geeta, Bradley, David and Vipula will take to the stage at World Agri-Tech. Join them and over 1,500 delegates in San Francisco.