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St. Louis is a fertile place to nourish agriculture partnerships, Monsanto CEO says

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 17, 2010 - Converting scientific research into products and practices that help feed more people more productively is not simply a matter of better seeds or advanced technology, the chairman and CEO of Monsanto says.

Making the most progress will require the ability to nurture partnerships, Hugh Grant said Thursday, and St. Louis provides fertile conditions to nourish collaborations between private industry and nonprofit institutions that can lead to breakthroughs in agriculture and biotechnology.

To prove his point, he made the short trip across Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur in the morning rain to deliver the inaugural lecture in a new series, known as "Seeds of Change," sponsored by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

With institutions like Monsanto and the plant science center, plus others including Washington University and the new BRDG Park to help grow new enterprises, "St. Louis has become a science hub," Grant said. "St. Louis has become a destination. There is an enormous amount of really cool science going on right here in St. Louis."

Turning that science into progress in agriculture and nutrition, he said, is a job too big for his company on its own.

"For us at Monsanto," Grant said, "that took us a long time to figure out. We can't do this alone. No group on its own has the solutions to these problems."

It is more than its institutions that have helped the region, he added. Much of the nation's farmland is located within 500 miles of St. Louis, Grant said, providing a living laboratory that will help increase crop yields, alleviate hunger and improve the world's nutrition.

For three of those crops -- corn, soybeans and cotton -- Grant said the world should push to double yields by 2030 to keep pace with growing population.

"Our challenge," he said, "is how to do more with less."

One way to achieve that goal, Grant added, is to "bring disparate groups together with a common agenda."

"Relationships are really hard to do," he said. "It's hard enough in a marriage, when you love someone. Try to do it with groups that are disparate."

If scientists and entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area can achieve such a harmonious working arrangement, Grant said, they will touch the world and change people's lives. "As it makes this region stronger, it puts us on the map.

"Think about partnerships, particularly unconventional ones."

And in the question-and-answer session after his talk, he had one more bit of advice when someone asked if St. Louis is the leader in this field.

His response, in short, was not to worry about that kind of status, just do the job.

"This question is so St. Louis," he said. "That is so yesterday."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.