At the 2021 Bloomberg New Economy Forum, Gro Intelligence’s CEO, Sara Menker, joined Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer; David MacLennan, CEO of Cargill; Alloysius Attah, CEO of Farmerline; and Stephanie Flanders of Bloomberg Economics to discuss a broad range of subjects ranging from sustainable agriculture to scalable investments.
The Agricultural Industry Is Critical in Sustainability Conversations
In her remarks, Menker described the challenges around sustainable agriculture as inherent in modeling agricultural markets on a real-time basis.
“Sustainability is a core part of the agricultural ecosystem. And so it is not that data is an answer. It is actually agriculture and people who understand agricultural markets, I would argue, who probably best understand our Earth, the environment and climate in ways that the average person in this world doesn’t understand - because it's their reality, every single day."
"There's a big role that the agricultural industry can play in sustainability conversations. Not just in the transformation of markets, but in education, and then educating other industries and participating in dialogues in ways that I don't think happen,” Menker said.
Living Is an Agricultural Act
“There was a famous quote I had seen once. It said, ‘Eating is an Agricultural Act,’” Menker said. “And it was a t-shirt. Actually at a coffee shop, and I bought it. Then I went and got my team to make a new version of that t-shirt, which was ‘Living Is an Agricultural Act.’”
“Because if you ask people the question, what's your first interaction with agriculture? When you wake up in the morning, most people say my cup of coffee, they forget about the sheet of cotton they slept in. They forget about the fact that the soaps they used have oils, they forget about the mint in their toothpaste. It is such a core part of our life and every part of the way we live. And we don't understand it. And I really believe that the contribution that the agricultural industry as a whole can have to dialogues around sustainability, and to driving change in the world, is large. And I think we're only just beginning.”
Investing in Scalable Solutions
In order to innovate new models of financing agriculture, we must build the next level of necessary infrastructure.
“I don't think we want to trivialize the amount of investment it's going to take when we talk about infrastructure. It's infrastructure in terms of storage of grain for farmers. When you are looking at small-scale farming, scale doesn't exist,” Menker said.
“How do you actually create aggregation methodologies that help us develop scale in communities and in parts of the world where that scale doesn't exist?” Menker asked. “I would create a financial institution that would help create the mechanisms to start financing all the changes that then need to be made.”
Information is Critical Infrastructure
Data becomes necessary infrastructure that can accelerate large-scale, sustainable solutions.
“In my past life, I was an energy trader. When I first started trading oil and gas, and a producer came in and wanted to hedge oil two years forward, it was very difficult for us to go out into the market and sell that two years forward.”
“By the time I left to start Gro, we could sell it 10, 20 years forward. That funded all sorts of innovations in the energy markets that made things like shale oil and shale gas possible. Gas prices went down, coal got priced out of the market, and renewables became a possibility.”
“There were really long-term changes that happened because capital flowed well. Capital flows well when there's good information, and so data becomes necessary infrastructure for driving transformation and change, because this change is going to require lots and lots of capital, and lots of long-term capital."
"Agricultural capital today is too short-term. And data is infrastructure. We just view it as a highway.”