A panel discussion1exploring the incentives needed to improve adoption of better weed-management strategies and to promote the development of new weed-control technologies
Tom Green, President, IPM Institute of North America
The IPM Institute was founded as an independent nonprofit in 1998 to leverage the power of the marketplace to improve environment, health, and economics through integrated pest management (IPM) and other best practices. Located in Madison, Wisconsin, our staff of twelve works in both agriculture and communities (www.ipminstitute.org). Projects include work with major food corporations, schools, municipalities, and the structural pest management industry. Much of our work involves changing behavior. We draw on the science of behavior change including Rogers’ theory of innovation adoption. In several projects, we focus on late adopters who potentially are responsible for a large and disproportionate share of the challenges we face in improving sustainability. These late adopters are apparent in weed-resistance management; for example, 28 percent do not use different herbicide mechanisms of action.
Our BMP CHALLENGE collaboration with American Farmland Trust provides both technical assistance and a net income guarantee to corn farmers so that they can experiment with both new and old technology for reducing nutrient and sediment losses from cropland (www.bmpchallenge.org). Farmers work with crop advisors who recommend appropriate practice(s) and carefully set out check strips in enrolled fields. Farmers and crop advisors work together to implement practices and compare yields and net income at harvest. Agflex, a corporation we founded specifically for this purpose, maintains reserves and compensates farmers who have a net income loss (www.agflex.com). Eighty-nine percent of participating farmers change practices for the better as a result of their participation. Perhaps an income guarantee coupled with technical assistance could help farmers use herbicides more appropriately to manage resistance.
1Dr. Kitty Smith ably moderated this panel.
We also have been working to more effectively engage crop consultants through programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service. Our national working group, co-led by Michigan State University since 2006, has been increasing participation in NRCS programs for IPM since 2006 (nrcs.ipm.msu.edu). In 2012, NRCS introduced a new IPM option for farmers to hire crop consultants to help prepare a plan to delay and avoid herbicide resistance. NRCS qualifies crop consultants as Technical Service Providers (TSPs), and more are needed. NRCS offers a new, one-day training for those interested in becoming TSPs and recently trained more than 100 consultants in Arkansas to prepare these plans. Financial assistance rates are $1,628 per plan for plans addressing 100 acres or less, and $2,730 for plans covering more than 100 acres.
Another example of innovations with potential applications in managing resistance include a pilot we initiated with collaborators in the Sandusky River Watershed in Ohio. There we are working with agricultural retailers to identify products and services that will reduce phosphorus losses from cropland and clean up the excess phosphorus problem in Lake Erie. Working with eleven retail locations and their farmer clients, we are creating a regional business plan to accomplish this goal. Could we apply this approach to resistant weeds?
Finally, we are working with food companies including Sysco, McDonald’s, a major national supermarket chain, and their supply chains to improve sustainability and maintain competitiveness in the face of mounting consumer and shareholder interest in supporting corporations who share their values. Best practices are identified and promoted, and adoption is tracked throughout large supply chains. Adjustments are made to improve adoption in specific focus areas. Managing herbicide resistance could be prioritized in these programs.
John Hamer, Venture Partner, Burrill & Company
Venture Capital and Innovation Investment in Agriculture
- Total venture capital financing is down from its peak in 2000 at $99 billion to approximately $29 billion and continues to slowly decline. Overall venture returns are poor relative to other asset classes, with the 10-year returns falling below 4 percent. The result is that institutional capital is seeking other investment opportunities in alternative asset classes (buy-out, hedge funds, etc.). While there is some concern about this, the United States still leads the world in Venture Capital (VC) funding by a significant margin (around $29 billion) compared to other countries (generally less than $2 billion). Other regions of the world (Asia, Eastern Europe, South America) all see biotechnology and VC as a source of innovation for industry diversification.
- Venture capital investment in the United States is highly skewed geographically, with more than $11 billion being spent in the San Francisco Bay Area (Silicon Valley). A vast majority of the life science VC money goes to healthcare/biotechnology ($5 billion), cleantech (around $5 billion), and internet/telecom/computers ($7 billion).
- Traditionally, agriculture investing has been a very small portion of the life science VC dollars (less than $100 million annually). Despite this, small agricultural biotechnology companies have contributed disproportionately to today’s genetic-engineering technologies (herbicide and insect resistance).
- Recently, the rise of “cleantech” investing has increased the interest in agricultural biotechnology. Cleantech investing includes areas such as sustainability, food security, water, and biofuels/biorefining. All these areas have agriculture as a significant player. The recent IPO by Ceres, several recent acquisitions, and a growing interest in the needs for improved agriculture have all increased the interest of some VC groups.
- Corporate VC groups have become a much stronger player in funding innovation. Corporate balance sheets are strong and large companies are using VC as part of an innovation strategy. Examples in agriculture include:
- Monsanto recently announced an alignment with Atlas Ventures in Boston as well as its investments in Nidas Capital.
- Syngenta has a new venture fund based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and a previous $100 million commitment to LSP Bioventures in Boston.
- Dow Agrosciences recently started a New Ventures group, and Dow Ventures has dedicated agriculture resources.
- BASF ventures has become more active in renewable energy, providing $40 million to Renmatix, a company that converts biomass into sugars.
- BP Ventures has made investments in agricultural biotech companies Chromatin and Mendel.
- Several factors are contributing to some life science funds looking more closely at agriculture investments. These factors include: the need for more food and protein globally, increasing commodity prices, and the role of agricultural feedstocks in bioprocessing and biorefinery endeavors. New funds include:
- First Green Partners—$350 million (Doug Cameron and Warburg Pincus).
- Cultivian (Ron Muessen focusing on the Midwest).
- Finistere Partners (Jerry Caulder with funding from New Zealand).
- Physics Ventures, DBL, Venrock, Mayfield, and Polaris continue to be interested in agriculture.
- New agriculture investments include NexSteppe and IPOs by Ceres. Acquisitions of Divergence and Pasturia (for new nematicides) as well as last year’s acquisition of Athenix by BayerCropScience are examples of continued interest in the area.
- Specifically related to pesticide research, the major agricultural chemical companies are still the drivers of innovation, primarily due to their significant in-house expertise, infrastructure for chemical process development, and deep grower relations. New trends include increased innovation around seed coatings, new herbicide resistance genes for dicamba, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), and HPPD inhibitors.
- Several small agbiotech companies are developing “biologics” that are of increasing interest to the majors. These products are considered “natural” and thus are cheaper, easier to register, and can be used in IPM strategies. Several biologics companies have acquired assets in this area and have targeted biologics as an area for growth.
John Soteres, Chair, Herbicide Resistance Action Committee
The Herbicide Resistance Action Committee is the industry stewardship group focused on weed resistance to herbicides and best practice strategies for resistance management. Our purpose and goal is to further the science related to weed resistance and to provide product stewardship through the development, promotion, and adoption of best management practices. Herbicide resistance is not new. Resistance is a challenge for all herbicides and concerns all sectors of the agricultural community. What’s different today is a greater understanding of this challenge and broader appreciation of the need to implement more diversified management strategies. Management strategies must be effective, reliable, practical, and economical, and these strategies must then be communicated to farmers together with the benefits of adopting these practices on the farm. With weed-management practices, our task is to convey the long-term benefit of more sustainable integrated practices in contrast to the visible short-term benefits of practices that seem effective today.
We are making progress, and the agricultural productivity industry is committed to furthering this progress in cooperation with academics, commodity groups, government agencies, and others. The industry is offering financial and nonfinancial incentives to farmers in support of more diversified and integrated weed management programs. Market research indicates that these incentives are contributing to a positive trend toward increased diversification. The path forward will not be without challenges, but it is possible to drive further improvements in weed resistance management through sustainable diversified practices that fit with our best science by:
- Increasing and improving training and education efforts with a focus on proactive implementation of diversified management.
- Offering financial incentives, as appropriate, to encourage use of best management practices.
- Increasing weed-management options that will lead to increased diversity through industry-directed chemical and biotechnology research.
- Funding basic and applied research into herbicide and nonherbicide options in conjunction with other sources.
- Increasing product delivery options, such as herbicide premixes, as a way to address cost and convenience barriers to adoption of best management practices.
The Herbicide Resistance Action Committee and the companies it represents are committed to active stewardship of our herbicide resources and stand as a ready partner with the public sector to further our common goals.
Paul B. Thompson, Michigan State University
Process Standards for Resolving Resource Conservation Dilemmas
Although they go by different names, many challenges in natural resource management have the general structure of collective action problems. A beneficial result can be achieved if everyone (or nearly everyone) defers some short-term benefit associated with resource exploitation and engages in use patterns that conserve the resource over the long term. These are not cases where individuals must permanently sacrifice self-interest for some larger cause. Every party will enjoy greater benefit if conservation is effective, so cooperation is consistent with self-interest. But in the absence of cooperation, each individual has strong incentives to engage in exploitive use. The policy challenge is to get the cooperative behavior up and running so that the collective benefits can be realized and then to ensure that people keep cooperating in the face of opportunities to gain advantages by defecting from the cooperative scheme. These challenges have been variously described as the tragedy of the commons, common-pool resource management, and free-rider problems.
The susceptibility of weeds to herbicides can be conceptualized as just such a problem if several conditions are satisfied. First, there must be patterns of herbicide use that would either prevent or substantially delay the emergence of resistant plants. Such patterns of use must be effective enough in controlling weeds to make them worth doing. Second, users of herbicides must stand to benefit over the long run if susceptibility is maintained or the onset of resistance is delayed. The most likely long-term benefit is simply the ability to continue to use a cost-effective weed control method that has acceptable environmental and health risks. Finally, there must be reasons users would not utilize the conservation strategy. Such reasons may be complex. Farmers may doubt the effectiveness of the conservation strategy, perhaps because they doubt others will comply. Hence, they hope to extract maximal short-term benefit before the effectiveness of the herbicide is lost. However, reasons may also be simple: They may not understand that the conservation strategy is in their self-interest or may think that it is inconvenient to follow. The following discussion illustrates some generalized responses to collective action problems and does not undertake detailed discussion of the biological strategies for controlling herbicide resistance or the human reasons for failing to deploy such strategies given current policies.
When ecologist Garret Hardin published his widely read article on “the tragedy of the commons” in 1968, the general thinking on collective action problems held that in the absence of means to privatize the resource in question, the only solution to them was government intervention. Interventions might take the form of coercive regulation or incentivizing compliance through subsidy, but the power of self-interest was believed to be so overpowering that individuals acting on their own could never develop a means to bring about or maintain cooperative conservation (Olson, 1965). Work by economists and political scientists has since documented a wide variety of ways in which groups have brought about effective responses to the need for cooperative conservation. A detailed discussion of the new theory of common-pool resource management is beyond the scope of the present discussion. Responses generally combine ethics, understood as a means of mutually recognizing the value of conservation and reproducing cultural norms dedicated to its continuation, with monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that draw on culturally
robust institutions of duty, guilt, and shame, as well as more conventional penalties (such as fines or denial of access to the resource) for defection (Ostrom, 2008, 2009).
Such informal governance mechanisms have been especially effective where the resource to be conserved is coextensive with a geographically contiguous region such as a forest, a fishery, or a watershed. Spatial contiguity facilitates both the formation of a local culture and the group-monitoring activities that are needed to enforce norms. It is not clear that management of herbicide resistance will lend itself to such informal mechanisms. However, another type of mechanism has evolved that exploits the organization of food system supply chains as they currently exist in highly industrialized and global markets. These mechanisms involve tripartite standards regimes that include mechanisms for the creation, certification, and accreditation of process standards for food and fiber products produced on commercial farms (as well as some manufactured goods) and traded on national and global markets. The picture will become clear as a few of these key terms are defined and some examples are given.
Grades and standards for agricultural products traditionally have been associated with product quality. Product standards, such as the USDA grading criteria for meats, were developed to organize markets but were based on observable features of the final product. Standards for food safety were based on identification of tolerances for potential contaminants, trace chemicals, or microorganisms and were similarly based on scientifically observable characteristics of a product. In contrast, a process standard is based on characteristics of the production process not detectable through close observation or testing of the product. Key process standards that have emerged over the last 20 years include “fair trade,” “GlobalGAP,” and various standards for the humane treatment of food animals. The most influential process standard is “organic” or “bio,” which stipulates a number of specific production practices that must be followed before products can be marketed under the corresponding label (Busch, 2011a).
Both product and process standards involve the interaction of three activities. First, there must be bodies or organizations that develop the standards in question. It is not unusual for multiple standards to emerge from competing standards developers. Second, there must be a method for certifying that products, processes, or both are in compliance with the standard. Classic product standards are certified by inspection or scientific test applied directly to the product, while process standards more typically are certified through inspection of the production process along with record-keeping methods (themselves the focus of process inspections) to ensure that products indeed have been produced according to the specifications of the standard in question. Finally, certifiers themselves must be accredited. Accreditation ensures that certification methods and practices provide reasonable assurance that standards have been interpreted accurately and provides a mechanism for ensuring that conflicts of interest do not undermine the entire purpose of standards implementation. The interlocking activities of standards development, certification, and accreditation create a self-reinforcing network of organizations and activities. This network constitutes a tripartite standards regime (Stone et al., 2012).
Tripartite standards regimes may involve government agencies in all or part of their activities. In the case of the USDA organic standard, standards development was undertaken under the auspices of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. However, producers wishing to participate in the National Organic Program must contract with a
private certifying agent. These agents may be nonprofit organizations, though they tend to be for-profit firms. Certifying agents in turn are accredited by USDA. Thus, in the case of the U.S. organic standard, the government operates two of three components of the tripartite standards regime. Furthermore, farmer participation in the program is entirely voluntary and may be motivated by profit or by other personal goals. The National Organic Program was developed at the request of growers who hoped to simplify access to what they perceived to be an important market opportunity (Guthman, 2004). Although the National Organic Program is the most successful example of a current process standard, it may not be a particularly apt model for approaching the dilemmas of herbicide resistance. However, other process standards that have emerged in the food system illustrate this potential.
Fair Trade. The term “fair trade” is used generically to indicate a number of specific standards intended to return a larger share of the final consumer price of agricultural commodities to primary producers. FairTrade is a term licensed by the Fair Trade Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the United Kingdom that was established with the goal of helping small-scale producers, especially in the developing world. The Fair Trade Foundation initially developed the standards for use of the FairTrade label and served as a certification body. Now, standards development and accreditation have been ceded to a consortium of fair trade labeling organizations including Fair Trade International, while the Fair Trade Foundation concentrates on certification and market development. Literally dozens of similar standards have been associated with terms such as “equal exchange,” “social accountability,” and “Oxfam” (the name of a well-respected nongovernmental organization), each of which is associated with a similar tripartite standards regime.
Fair trade standards are worth noting in part because they operate almost entirely outside governmental authority. Key actors are primarily not-for-profit charitably oriented organizations, many of which have been formed with the express purpose of promoting fair trade. As with the organic standard, participation by producers is entirely voluntary. The primary incentive for participation by producers is economic. The effectiveness of the standard depends on purchase behavior by consumers. If enough consumers can be enrolled, the fair trade standard becomes an effective way to return a larger share of consumer price to producers. However, consumer confidence is undermined when fair trade-type labels are deployed without adequate procedures for certification. Debates over the effectiveness of fair trade have led some to suggest that accreditation of certifiers, at least, should fall under the authority of a legally constituted government agency. Indeed, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has reviewed a number of fair trade schemes, identifying dozens that they believe accomplish fair trade objectives. UNCTAD stops short of recommending state-supervised accreditation. Compared to other standards reviewed here, fair trade is still the Wild West of tripartite standards regimes.
Sustainability. There are a number of efforts to develop process standards focused on sustainability, both within the food system and more generally. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has a general sustainability standard (20121) in development. Other examples do not use the word sustainability but are intended to promote environmental or social improvement while restructuring supply chains. Formerly known as EuropGAP, GlobalGAP is a set of common agricultural production process standards that are being developed by a consortium of European supermarket
chains. It is but one of many efforts to develop standards under a broad “green” or sustainability umbrella. When complete, the content of GlobalGAP standards will be a set of good agricultural practices covering food safety, worker health, food quality, and environmental impact of production processes. The supermarket industry hopes that compliance with these standards will assure customers that they are working to achieve sustainability throughout the food system. The eventual goal is for all products sold in member stores to comply with GlobalGAP standards. As with USDA Organic, certification will be done by an independent organization or firm. Accreditation of these certifying agents will take place under the auspices of mostly government-supervised accreditation agencies in the respective countries where members of the consortium source products to be sold under the GlobalGAP standard. The relevant body in the United States is the American National Standards Institute, a private, not-for-profit organization that includes U.S. government agencies as members and is the official U.S. government representative to the ISO.
Like all sustainability standards developed to date, producer participation in GlobalGAP is technically voluntary. But to the extent that these standards become requisite for one’s products to appear on supermarket shelves, producers selling into commodity markets may find themselves with little choice but compliance. It is thus clear that if GlobalGAP decided to institute herbicide management procedures into its good agricultural practice requirements, this particular private process standard would very likely become even more effective than mandatory federal regulation in incentivizing rapid change in farmer behavior (Loconto and Busch, 2010). GlobalGAP or other standards would be instituted by downstream actors in the supply chain in order to bolster consumer confidence or to burnish their image as a “green” company. However, because of the power associated with integrated access to the processing system or retail markets, this standard would rapidly convert the idealized form of producer compliance into a reality (Busch, 2011b).
Animal Welfare. As with other areas reviewed above, process standards intended to address the welfare and well-being of agricultural animals are being developed under a number of distinct tripartite standards regimes. State agencies have been the primary actors in the European Union, though a number of retailers have attempted to establish standards for premium products that could be offered at higher prices. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the American Humane Association, have been active in the United States, but an effort by a producer organization, the United Egg Producers (UEP), is of particular interest. Following an action by the McDonald’s corporation in 1998 requiring egg suppliers to meet standards for hen welfare that had been developed by an independent committee of experts, UEP convened its own scientific committee to recommend standards, which were adopted by the UEP Producer Committee in 2000. At first initiation, the UEP welfare standard primarily addressed space requirements computed on a per-bird basis, which were increased by nearly 50 percent of typical industry practice at the time. Standards since have been revised and updated to address noncage production systems and other production practices, such as induced molting through feed withdrawal (Mench, 2008).
The UEP standard for hen welfare was voluntary, however. To incentivize compliance, UEP developed a label, eventually call “UEP Approved,” which could only be applied to eggs produced in compliance with the standard. Certification was undertaken by
both USDA inspectors and private certifying firms. Accreditation of certifiers is currently done by UEP executive officers with advice. Although consumer awareness of the UEP Approved label remains low, several retail chains have adopted policies of stocking only UEP-certified products. The result has been rapid and widespread compliance within the egg industry. In a personal communication, UEP President Gene Gregory reports that uptake was rapid, covering 80 percent of the industry within two years of adoption by the UEP Producer Committee, and participation has continued to increase in the intervening years.
The UEP’s effort is interesting in the present context because it represents an initiative undertaken by a producer organization, though as with GlobalGAP a significant additional incentive for participation in the standard accrues from its use as a requirement for entry into key retail markets. However, the fact that the standards process was begun by and remains controlled by producers shows that standards processes can be driven by any of several actors in the supply chain: producers, consumer-oriented NGOs (as in the case of free trade), or retailers (GlobalGAP). Thus, there are significant options beyond the case of government regulation to bring about means for addressing collective action or common-pool resource dilemmas.
Like the common-pool resource management schemes for fisheries, forests, and other classic instances of natural resource conservation, tripartite standards regimes can be effective nonstate means of soft law—the domain where social expectations and voluntary mechanisms create incentives and penalties that rival the power of governments for influencing human behavior. Ethics, understood to include the give-and-take of opinion and debate that creates and reinforces such expectations, is a crucial component of that process. If an ethically convincing rationale emerges linking conservation of herbicide effectiveness to sustainability, it could be possible for retailers or other actors within the food and agricultural products industries to put process standards in place that virtually force producers to comply. If producers not only come to understand that they would benefit from compliance with herbicide conservation strategies, but they should act collectively to do so, the opportunity for effecting a tripartite standards regime to bring this about might well arise within the industry. In the spirit of democracy and participation, the latter approach is preferable.
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Michael Walsh, Research Associate Professor, University of Western Australia
I’d like to relate a recent experience I had involving extension and adoption. We recently ran a series of workshops in Eastern Australia to communicate harvest weed-seed control techniques developed in Western Australia, which has a larger weed-resistance problem. Along with researchers such as myself, we invited three farmers to present at the workshops. Each had adopted a different form of harvest weed-seed control in Western Australia: chaff cuts, narrow-windrow burning, and the Harrington seed destructor. At the workshops, it was quickly apparent that growers did not want to hear about research results; they just really wanted to hear about the practical experiences the three growers had had in using these technologies. The farmers in Eastern Australia wanted to use them and were ready to adopt, but listening to presentations on the results was not enough to convince them. They wanted to hear how they could set up these systems in their own farms and what it actually meant to their farming systems if they did take on these technologies. The workshops went on for two weeks. Two months later I was back in these same areas setting up harvest weed-seed control trials, and the number of fields I saw that were set up for windrow burning or that had chaff cuts in them was just staggering. There were literally hundreds of thousands of acres that had been transformed and set up for taking on those practices. Because of this widespread adoption, we have had to modify our approach to try to support the growers who have taken up these technologies so quickly. We need to subsequently support them in making sure they get those practices right.
Russian thistle (Salsola tragus), courtesy of Stan Shebs (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki?File:Salsola_tragus_2.jpg).