Seed companies invest billions in R&D annually to bring new genetics, traits and more to your farm. We want to introduce you to a few of the faces behind the innovations. Learn more about their story and the challenges they face. Here's the fifth of an eight-part series.
Neal Gutterson never anticipated he would launch a career in agriculture. His college focus was originally on biology and what discoveries could benefit the medical industry, but a surprising force drove him into the field.
When “Silent Spring” hit bookshelves in 1962 it rocked the world and, unfortunately, painted agriculture in a poor light. The shocking tale the book told led Gutterson into a career focused on agriculture—namely biology.
“I recognized there was an opportunity to do it better [produce food]—whether the author was right or not,” he says. “It got me thinking about how we could use biology to improve agriculture, how that could lead to better chemicals, etc.”
This eureka moment sent him diving head-first into biology as it relates to ag. This includes plant genetics, biotech and other plant-based improvements to the way farmers produce crops. Gutterson worked in various R&D roles at agricultural startups, landing at Mendel Biotechnology, a small biotech company, where he eventually became CEO.
Today, Gutterson serves as Corteva Agriscience chief technology officer. He spends every moment of his working day focused on research that helps farmers gain access to better technology while keeping consumers safe.
This doesn’t come without challenges.
“The biggest problem coming forward are regulatory challenges around the world and public views about agriculture that are largely unfounded,” he says. “What I’ve learned is people have unique relationships with food—we don’t care what makes our phone work, but when it comes to food technology some get very nervous.”
Regulatory hurdles are already threatening new technologies that could benefit both farmers and consumers, namely, gene editing technologies such as CRISPR Cas-9. While the U.S. doesn’t classify CRISPR-edited crops as GMOs, for example, European countries aren’t following that example.
“When you look at the potential of gene editing technology, it has the opportunity to be as revolutionary as hybridization or biotechnology,” Gutterson says. Because of the technology’s potential, and his personal passion, he’s promoting agriculture technology around the world.
“In Europe we’ve spent a lot of time talking to non-government organizations (NGOs), companies and others about ag because there is a lot more resistance there,” he says. These conversations led to Gutterson’s proudest achievement when he was named one of the 20 most influential seed experts in Europe.
“We need to engage people and relate to them as people,” Gutterson adds.