Monsanto Co. plans to make its operations carbon neutral by 2021, in part by working with farmers who use its products to help them reduce carbon emissions, the company's CEO told The Associated Press.
To be carbon neutral, Monsanto must reduce its net emission of climate-changing carbon to zero. Climate change is one of the most vital issues facing humanity, Monsanto's Hugh Grant said in an interview ahead of the company's announcement Tuesday, and an "untold story" is the agricultural industry's effort to address the issue.
Farmers "have an opportunity and a part to play in mitigation around climate change," Grant said. "Rather than being the problem, I think there's a growing realization they can be a big part of the solution."
Monsanto's announcement comes as world leaders gather in Paris for two weeks of negotiations to finalize a sweeping global agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
Grant said part of St. Louis-based Monsanto's effort is basic "good housekeeping," such as stricter emissions control, conserving energy at offices, using more fuel-efficient vehicles. The company also pledges within its seed production operations to reduce its carbon footprint through breeding, plant biotechnology, conservation tillage and use of cover crops.
A key component of the plan calls for working with the thousands of farmers who use Monsanto seeds and pesticides. The company is developing an incentives program to encourage environmentally friendly production methods — cover crops and conservation tillage chief among them — that allow the soil to absorb and hold as much or more greenhouse gases than are emitted in corn and soybean farming.
In addition, Monsanto plans to share its own best practices data, as well as practices developed from other experts.
David Lobell, deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, said it is important for any major company to strive for carbon neutrality.
"Even if it doesn't make much of a dent by itself, it certainly is a positive step," Lobell said.
Ray Gaesser, who farms 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) of corn and soybeans near Corning, Iowa, and is chairman of the board for the American Soybean Association, said farmers are anxious to help reduce carbon emission. His own farm has been no-till for 25 years, and he has increased the use of cover crops over the past half-decade.
"In agriculture, we need to do what we can, what we practically can, to protect the environment," Gaesser said. "I think we all want to do that. It's just a matter or learning and experiencing how to make it all work."
Several major companies with ties to agriculture have announced efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Estimates suggest the agricultural industry contributes around 10 percent of U.S. emissions.
In August, General Mills announced a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emission 28 percent by 2025, a plan that includes partnering with suppliers to foster more sustainable agricultural practices. In 2013, Coca-Cola announced it would buy all of its agricultural ingredients from sustainable sources by 2020.