Biotech #FoodHeroes: Robb Fraley

Robb Fraley

Robb Fraley has had an outsized impact on modern agriculture.

As the chief technology officer of Monsanto, Fraley and his team developed the biotechnology tools that accelerated innovations in plant breeding, with dramatically positive results.

“These tools are being used by plant scientists around the world to enable dramatic increases in food production,” says Fraley, who is now retired.

But what he finds equally pleasing is the safety record of genetically modified crops — “not a single issue of food or feed safety in 25 years” — and the fact that farmers choose to plant the improved seeds because “they increase profitability, productivity and yields on their farms.”

Serving the farmer is important to Fraley, who grew up working his father’s small farm in Central Illinois before heading off to college. The experience taught him the challenges that farmers face in producing food — and how innovation can help them succeed.

It was a lesson that Fraley parlayed into academic research and a career focused on using biotechnology to breed crops that offered higher yields, insect and disease resistance and better nutritional content, while reducing tillage, labor and crop inputs.

“Producing more with less can enable us to achieve food security for a growing global population while reducing the environmental impacts of farming,” he says. “These technological advances offer great promise for the future if they are funded and reach the marketplace.”

Farmers also benefit because biotechnology is delivered as improved seeds and agronomic practices that they all can use, Fraley says. “It is particularly critical that smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia have access to these tools as their countries’ populations will experience the most considerable growth over the next 30 years.”