Fields near Powell, Wyoming. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index calculated from Planet’s June 2019 surface reflectance basemap. © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.

NASA Harvest Event Encourages Collaboration for a Sustainable Future


Leading agriculture companies recognize that the current status quo is not enough when it comes to addressing sustainability and climate change. Historically, there hasn’t been a clear consensus on how to tackle the issues or make measurable progress while increasing productivity to feed 10 billion by 2050.

But progress is on the horizon. Last week, NASA Harvest hosted an event called “Partnerships for a Sustainable Future” in collaboration with Planet and Farm2050, to bring together forward-thinking agriculture companies from across the value chain to tackle how public, private and academic sectors can work together to build and advance sustainability commitments.

“Sustainable agriculture ultimately benefits all of society,” said Lawrence Friedl, Director of the Applied Sciences Program within the Earth Science Division at NASA. “But in a competitive economy, there are specific areas where individual companies are not financially incentivized to invest. If a public sector entity were to do it, it could help everyone.”

NASA Harvest is NASA’s new Applied Sciences Food Security and Agriculture Program. Run as a multidisciplinary consortium and led by the University of Maryland, NASA Harvest is paving the way in convening the public and private sectors to unlock innovation and partnerships in agriculture. Farm2050’s aim is to solve the global food challenge. Led by Innovation Endeavors and Finistere Ventures, Farm2050 brings together researchers, farmers, manufacturers, distributors, policy makers and investors to support startups leveraging cutting-edge technology to improve the efficiency and nutrition of food.

“The private sector can move the needle to drive transformative change,” said Inbal Becker-Reshef, Director of the NASA Harvest Program. “We have the flexibility at NASA Harvest to adapt our activities to align with industry needs, and we can act as a neutral convener due to our mandate as a public good.”

Consumer demand for sustainability is on the rise, and large corporates are taking action, but many questions remain about which practices are most transformational, not just environmentally, but also socially and economically.

Companies like Corteva, Bayer and BASF, which in other circumstances could be considered competitors, came together to address the urgent need for action around sustainability.

“It will require creativity and coming out of comfort zones. We need to enter partnerships with trust and work towards specific, quantifiable metrics,” said Sylvain Coutu, Head of Innovation Special Lines, Swiss Re.

Damien Lepoutre, Vice President of AgTech at Land O’ Lakes, reiterated the importance of building initiatives around what makes sense for the farmer.

“Sustainable agriculture, first and foremost, must be financially sustainable for the farmer,” Lepoutre said. “But it’s a complex business, and we cannot solve the issues we face by prescribing uniform practices for every single crop and region.”

“We need a dialogue to understand what we can do together to make private sector agriculture sustainability commitments a reality,” said Bradley Doorn, Water Resources and Agriculture Program Manager, NASA Earth Science Division Applied Sciences.

Attendees from Swiss Re, Corteva, Bayer and Planet also spoke on a panel later that week to discuss characteristics of successful public private partnerships and untapped opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), which attracted over 25,000 attendees to San Francisco.

Learn more about NASA Harvest and stay updated on the latest news and upcoming events by subscribing to the NASA Harvest newsletter and following @NASAHarvest on Twitter.

This post was co-authored by Alyssa Whitcraft, Sara Ahmed Holman and Zara Khan.