Feeding the estimated nine billion of us who will inhabit Earth by the year 2050 will require food to be grown on roughly the same amount of land used for farming today. As a research agronomist at Koch Agronomic Services, John is part of a team of scientists on the forefront of exploring and discovering new ways to help agriculture keep up with increased demand.
John has witnessed firsthand the very hunger he is working to prevent — on various humanitarian trips over the past decade to developing countries in the Caribbean, including Haiti, Honduras and Guatemala. In addition to helping strengthen local families and communities in these areas through faith-based initiatives, he strives to help educate farmers in better agricultural techniques.
“These folks really do live hand to mouth, literally,” John observed. “Once I was asked to help take food relief to the town dump. But why the dump? Because, when we got there, I discovered that’s where the town’s poor already were — digging through the garbage trying to find their day’s meal. That was a profound moment of realization for me.”
Another turning point came as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia. Even though he didn’t grow up on a farm, John was inspired by a roommate in the university’s agriculture program and fell in love with agronomics.
“I got fascinated with the science of it,” John recalled. “But, even more than that, I realized that people involved in agriculture are helping to feed the planet. There’s just something about that that connects with me.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a Ph.D. in soil fertility and soil chemistry in 2005, John turned his attention to his passion: helping secure and grow the food supply for future generations.
“It’s not just an agronomic issue, it’s an economic issue. And it’s an economic freedom issue,” John related. “Frankly, many developing countries struggle because their people have very little economic freedom. As an agronomist, there’s little I can do to change that. But I can certainly do my part in terms of agricultural education.”
“Personally and professionally, I think that being part of a team that helps feed the world is a noble mission.”
At Koch Agronomic Services, his first role was to help develop and refine enhanced efficiency fertilizers.
“We have to help provide food security for the world using the land we already have,” John explains. “This means applying the right kinds of fertilizer in just the right amounts to optimize the balance between crop production and environmental impact for future generations. Striking this balance takes real innovation.”
Last year, John took his agronomy skills a step further.
“With fertilizers we try to optimize the amount of nutrients getting into the plant to help it grow,” John continued. “And, by applying innovation, we’re now also working to optimize the plant itself by harnessing the power of microbes that already occur in the environment.”
The process begins by identifying precisely which microbes can help naturally stimulate plants to improve their performance in areas such as vigor, water and nutrient use efficiency and, ultimately, crop yield.
By using science to isolate and harness beneficial microbes found in our soil, John and his team are discovering promising and completely natural ways to increase the growth and performance of plants.
“We test it on plants in the lab, then in the greenhouse, and finally, if it proves promising by producing more grain or better fruits, we try it out in the field on a much larger scale,” John noted. “We will screen thousands of microbes to find just a few that work. But it’s all worth it, because helping plants grow bigger, better, stronger and faster, brings real, long-term value to society.”
Which brings us back to John’s mission: doing his part to help feed the world today and tomorrow.
“I find it rewarding and exciting that Koch is committed to making long-term investments in science, research and the development that it’s going to take to get us there,” John said. “There aren’t a lot of other companies who would both see the potential, and be willing to make that deep financial commitment to this kind of promising technology. I’m just blessed to be part of one that does.”