Protecting Our Environment

Playing for Keeps

by Jesus Madrazo
Playing for Keeps
The lessons learned as a child have a way of shaping one’s life as an adult.
Growing up in one of the larger cities in southern Mexico, my experience with crops was limited to weekend visits to my grandfather’s farm. The near-tropical conditions created a stunning playground that brings back fond memories of running through his cacao plantation, liberating the seeds from their pods and savoring that intense chocolatey flavor. Other days found me chewing on a stalk of sugarcane or chasing cattle across his pasture. Looking back, my time there was a near-idyllic experience.
Jesus Madrazo
Jesus Madrazo is Head of Agricultural Affairs and Sustainability at Bayer Crop Science.
But it wasn’t all about playing. My grandfather showed me the value of hard work and what it took to manage a highly diversified farming operation. I saw how his farm was connected to nature and the impact it had on his family, friends and community. And slowly, I began to realize that he was teaching me a deeper lesson about responsibility and sustainability. While I enjoyed my time there, I learned that farming is neither a game or a pastime — it’s a business. And a tough one.

Finding My Path

Many years later, after earning an MBA at Cardiff University in the UK, I still wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do with my life. I only knew that I needed a job.
Jesus Madrazo
When I joined Monsanto, little did I know that my career path would begin to draw me ever closer to the farm. Each new position in the company gave me fresh insights to the wider world of agriculture. Today, I’m working to expand Bayer’s sustainability efforts, help farmers meet their daily challenges while conserving our limited natural resources, and support the communities that feed us all. It’s as if my adult career and my childhood visits to my grandfather’s farm were converging to be in full alignment.

My grandfather taught me that nothing gets wasted on a farm and that taking care of the earth was the best way to preserve our natural resources and ensure the gifts that only nature can provide. We didn’t call it sustainable farming in those days, and yet that’s exactly what my grandfather was trying to do. He wasn’t perfect then, and agriculture isn’t perfect today, but over the years I’ve seen the huge strides we are making toward achieving that goal.

As head of agricultural sustainability for Bayer, my goal is to build on the solid foundation I experienced as a child with the knowledge that I’ve learned as an adult to find lasting solutions to the critical issues facing agriculture. It may not be as much fun as chasing cattle, but it feels much more meaningful.

The Road Ahead

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to developing sustainable solutions worldwide. Our diversity of landscapes, growing conditions and cultural traditions means that what works for most megafarms may not work for most smallholder farms. And yet, despite their differences, there is one thing that binds all farms together: Innovation in agriculture offers something for everyone, as advances in soil health, plant breeding and digital technologies will bring substantial benefits to all farms, regardless of size.
And while innovation is a key piece of the puzzle to achieve food security and farming’s sustainability, it cannot succeed without wide support. It’s not enough to tout the benefits of technologies — we must engage in meaningful conversations to understand everyone’s concerns and share ideas. I think we can make real progress if we focus on our shared values, instead of arguing about our differences.
Jesus Madrazo

My grandfather’s farm is no longer owned by my extended family, though it remained so for more than a decade after his passing. It was tough to see it go, but in time I saw this as a reaffirmation of what he taught me about farming: People may come and go, but if the land is preserved and managed properly, it will remain productive for generations to come. You can’t be a passive participant when it comes to operating a successful farm. Each decision, each action, must be carefully considered to understand the impact it will have, both now and in the future.

Today, another family is farming my grandfather’s land. Maybe they have children who take delight in running through the fields, as I once did. If managed well, that same land will be there long after they’re gone and could become a playground for yet another child to experience. And if a child’s play can inspire a search that leads to more sustainable farming, then that’s what I’d call playing for keeps.

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