Increased Food Production and the Chemical Industry

Moderator: Robert O. Kenworthy, Vice Manager of Affiliate Relations, Chemical Heritage Foundation
Speakers: L. Val Giddings, President, Prometheus AB
Jon Fobes, Vice President of Research and Regulatory Affairs, Dow AgroFresh

The latest projections by the United Nations show the world population increasing by 34 percent to just over 9 billion by 2050, with nearly all the growth occurring in developing countries. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projects a resultant 70 percent increase in demand for food. With limited additional arable land available, 90 percent of the supply that satisfies this additional demand must come from increased yields or nutritional content. Attaining this increased productivity will create considerable technological challenges for farmers, seed companies, chemical companies, and others, on such wide-ranging issues as water use and efficiency, pesticide and herbicide consumption, land productivity, and the development of new traits.

The first speaker, Val Giddings, president of Prometheus AB, established the magnitude of the issue both from a global and a regional perspective. He noted that the FAO expects a full 70 percent of the needed gains to come from innovative technologies. While the twentieth century “Green Revolution” solutions were produced by the application of fertilizer and crop-protection chemicals, the twenty-first century “Doubly Green Revolution” solutions will be based on the techniques of the Green Revolution with the added solutions from work with the internal chemistry of the plants themselves. Both are essential and indispensable. Giddings asserted that the products of agricultural biotechnology are becoming the new “conventional” standard.

He then projected the number of genetic-modification events anticipated in the next five years by region and discussed the importance of each crop for that region. As these events progress through stages, the most advanced are expected to include such complex polygenetic traits as water metabolism and N2 fixation.

In the second presentation of the session Jon Fobes of Dow AgroFresh talked about the progress being made in food preservation through chemically delaying the ethylene-triggered onset of senescence with the application of 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP). Before discussing the mechanism by which this molecule works, however, he noted that about
25 percent of all food produced is wasted to post-harvest problems. These problems are

  • over-ripening (primarily from C2H4),
  • under-ripening,
  • insects,
  • rodents,
  • fungi,
  • bacteria, and
  • shrinkage and dehydration (often from respiration).

Fobes then proceeded to explain the mechanism of plants producing ethylene when under stress and how that ethylene causes the onset of senescence. He further presented the research done at North Carolina State University (NCSU) on 1-MCP and showed how that molecule is a sterical clone for ethylene, interfering with its action on plant cells, and how it blocks the synthesis of proteins and enzymes.

This technical discussion was followed by several illustrations of the effect and a challenge issued by Fobes for anyone to compare in October a freshly picked apple with a year-old apple from the same tree that had been preserved with SmartFresh, AgroFresh’s brand name for 1-MCP. He also noted that 1-MCP continues to be the source of greatest income to NCSU from licensed intellectual property—a license that AgroFresh holds globally and exclusively.