Dr. Carpenter was the keynote speaker at the University of Kentucky on November 17 at their Awards Ceremony. His extensive work with Land Grant Universities was notable during his career, and he has continued his support during his retirement. The speech is printed in its entirety here.
UNIVERSITY of KENTUCK
17 NOVEMBER 2014
WILL D. CARPENTER
Thank you for your very warm welcome Dr. Cox. To set the stage for my talk and why I am here, my work with Nancy some 20 plus years ago was one of the most productive and enjoyable projects of my career. She and the colleagues she led changed the thrust of research for her institution.
We all know that of all the factors we must deal with, change is the most difficult to manage successfully, and is probably the one thing that causes failure when we don’t do it well. I’ll be back to that shortly.
Let me digress and give you my version of how I became your speaker for today. I want you to know that I am one of you. I can tell you to the day when I became part of a land grant family. It was July 13, 1930. Now that happens to be my birth date, and the reason that I make that claim is that my Dad had been a county agent in Mississippi for 16 years by then. He covered his county on horseback until 1917, then changed counties, sold his horse, and bought a car. His week started, in 1914, with him riding off on Monday on his horse with two saddle bags, going from farm to farm, sleeping in barns and getting home for the weekend.
I came along during the worst of the depression, in the poorest State in the Union, in the poorest part of the State. My first paying job was washing test tubes and slides in the county venereal disease testing lab for $1.25 a day. I think that I am still the only 12 year old who was exposed to every sexually transmitted disease known to God and man without any accompanying pleasure!
To fast forward at the rate of one sentence per year or less, I learned to read at age 4, had diphtheria at age 7 and learned to speed read when I was 10. I was a scrawny kid in the 8th grade at 4’11”, and 98 pounds. I became a soda jerk at 13 for $2/day and an 80 hour week. In the summer, I finally had some growth, and I played a little football, basketball, and track. I was an Eagle Scout at 16, a seaman apprentice cook on a destroyer escort in the Naval Reserves at 17, Junior College as a freshman at 18, Mississippi State at 19-21, Army Artillery ROTC commission and BS in Soil Science and active duty 22-24, Skysweeper Bn & 7th Infantry Division in Korea, Captain at 25 in reserves, graduate school at Purdue 24-28, and Monsanto 28-62, where I finished as VP, Research for the Agricultural Company. A few plusses on the way–I was a Battery Commander, both in the states in a Skysweeper Battalion, and in Korea in an Automatic Weapons Battalion while still a 2nd Lt. My office mate, Mary Stiller, and I won two of the six NSF pre-doctoral fellowships in Botanical Sciences in 1954 at Purdue. In 1958, after a MS and PhD in Plant Physiology, I found my first professional job at Monsanto, and also my first wife. I retired from Monsanto in 1992, but still have my first wife after 54 years!
I was in 78 countries for Monsanto, I had tea herbicide plots in then-Ceylon, rubber and oil palm in Malaya, coffee in Brazil, cotton throughout Central America, corn in then-Yugoslavia, sugar cane in most of the Caribbean, wheat in Australia, onions in Texas and Ceylon, and rice throughout Asia. I also synthesized c-14 labeled N-acetyl glucose amine for research into Chitin synthesis, and that convinced me that I was more of a pounds per acre person than a microgram per milliliter person. There was not much that I didn’t do, from being involved in lawsuits, testifying before Congress, evicted from a town in NW Pakistan in January, getting home three days later to an oxygen tent with a difficult case of pneumonia. I almost became close friends with a bushmaster in Panama. I was on the last flight out of Dacca as a monsoon was almost there. I was a Stasis target in East Berlin just before reunification. In Bulgaria, I had AK-47’s stuck in my face. I was in Ceylon when the Prime Minister was kicked out of the country. I was in India when the language riots took place, where two bus-loads of people were burned in front of the hotel. For whatever complaints I may have, having been bored is not one of them. There were some bright spots, also. Once I flew from NY to London, first class next to Miss U.S.A. She wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but on the other hand, she breathed regularly. One of your previous speakers, Gale Buchanan, and I were to meet in Chicago and fly to London together. His plane was hijacked, the FBI shot out the tires, the plane made an emergency landing in Havana, and Gale broke an ankle jumping from the plane! I accused him of not wanting to fly with me.
One other event, and I’ll get back to my key points. I spent 25 years as the Industry Advisor, consultant to the government on the chemical weapons treaty negotiations that led to the treaty organization, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW) which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. After the Organization was formed, I was the first US representative to the Advisory Board of the OPCW. All in all, I have served my country in some fashion for a total of 36 years, which gives me a good feeling.
It’s time to talk about the most important relationship that I had in my 34 years with Monsanto. Let me begin with some numbers: I worked routinely with over 40 land grant universities during my career with Monsanto. If I separated the out-of-state experimental stations, that number starts to approach 80. I hired most of the PhDs from these institutions for our needs, and at one point, I was on a first name basis with 300-400 scientists here and at your fellow institutions. Your institution was among the leaders in those categories. One name comes to mind, Jim Herron, who was a cooperator, a mentor, a friend and a “go-to” scientist. One of the things that I did to improve that valuable relationship, was to establish an organization, the University-Industry Consortium. It was composed of key people from each organization to participate in informal meetings, but on key issues, ranging from budgets, intellectual property, safety and cooperative research. Several years ago, it had grown to over 20 Academic Institutions and 10 or so industrial companies. Nancy was one of those in attendance at the first meeting.
There are three components to every land grant institution. It has been that way forever, to the extent that in the U.S., we sometimes don’t remember the absolutely critical role that each of them play. Even worse, those who are trying to bring sufficient food to countries don’t recognize the critical role that the three play and how they are mutually supportive of one another. I believe that Land Grant Institutions can claim the major credit for those human endeavors that have blessed our country with abundant, sufficient, nutritious, and low cost food that is the envy of the rest of the world. The outstanding research that is being conducted by many private, non-governmental organizations is lost or not exploited because those three parts of the Land Grant system are not recognized. Before any institution is funded for projects to bring food availability to another country, that institution should be asked how the research, teaching and extension components would be delivered. Isn’t it a shame that there are so many slow learners? This fundamental concept is needed today just as it was when Dad supported farmers in the Mississippi Delta for forty years. Isn’t it also a shame that so often we’re not only slow learners, but also have short memories. There is no better example of what happens when this “recipe” is not used or is destroyed, as in the countries of central Africa. When the dictators came into power, (many of whom could not read or write) among the first things they did was to kill the educated, destroy the research centers, and destroy the educational system. At a time when the yield of corn per acre in the U.S. was about 40 bushels, the yield in African countries was probably less than 20. This year, in the U.S., the yield will be over 170 bushels per acre using less than 5% of the labor used in 1930, and in Africa, it is still probably less than 20 bushels. Many competent, dedicated organizations are trying to change that situation, and most of them are making the same mistake. They are not geared up to do all three–research, education, extension. Until all three are part of the solution, success will be limited.
There is another set of triple institutions that I need to discuss, which are every bit as important as the three that exist in the land grant concept. The latter has been the structure for a substantial amount of the progress made in agriculture in our country for over eighty years. The three are the Land Grant Institutions, USDA, and Industry. Very few advances in agriculture are made without participation from all three. I can make a “back of the envelope” calculation that no more than 5000 people in the three groups, over a period of about 30 years, changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people, especially that of women and children. They were relieved from doing back breaking work, and can now stand up straight instead of being permanently stooped over because of a lifetime of bending over pulling weeds. The children are being educated rather than being used to work in the fields.
It is time to move to the future. “What have you done for me lately?” I was asked that by my coaches in high school and Jr. College, and by my Colonel in Korea, at least several times a week. The same question came from my major professor at Purdue, and my bosses at Monsanto. I learned early that to be able to answer that question to the satisfaction of those who asked it, I had to continually change. Every now and then one comes across a thought that is captured so well, that one does not let it go. Here is one! ’IT MUST BE REMEMBERED THAT THERE IS NOTHING MORE DIFFICULT TO PLAN, MORE DOUBTFUL OF SUCCESS, NOR MORE DANGEROUS TO MANAGE THAN A NEW SYSTEM. FOR THE INITIATOR HAS THE ENMITY OF ALL WHO WOULD PROFIT BY THE PRESERVATION OF THE OLD INSTITUTION AND MERELY LUKEWARM DEFENDERS IN THOSE WHO GAIN BY THE NEW ONES.” NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI THE PRINCE
Let me give two yardsticks for you to use in your drive to change: If your changes are not to the point that you are nervous about them, you are creeping up on the problem. As an old Artillery man said, “you want to get an ‘over’ and ‘under’ as soon as possible.” The second is that if you don’t make a mistake every now and then, you’re probably not aggressive enough.
Monsanto Company has gone through several metamorphoses; from nitrogen products to pre-emergence herbicides to Roundup to genetic engineered plants to seeds and now to and evolution into an information company. All of us must increase the rate at which we are changing. The changing technology demands it. Competition requires it. Our communications with our changing customers do, also. We are losing the communications battles, and we are in a war. Ninety per cent of the people in this country are probably three generations removed from agriculture, and don’t have the vaguest idea of how food gets on their table. If that isn’t bad enough, let me quote from another wise man, Will Rogers: “It ain’t what people don’t know that gets them in trouble, it’s all them things they know that ain’t so!” That couldn’t be truer than where our food supply is concerned.
Finally, The National Academy of Science, several years ago, issued a study that concluded that 80-90% of the adult population is scientifically illiterate. Just look at the stupidity of and, at best, how misinformed people are about everything from vaccines to GMO’s to strange diets. The consumer (read customer for us) has no way of telling the difference between valid science based knowledge, and rumors, misinformation, and lies. Two weeks ago, I had lunch with a group of smart, successful, well educated people–lawyers (I think they qualify!), finance people, etc., and I listened to them discuss diets. I hate to say this, but the people in the little town of Moorhead, Mississippi in 1938 had a better grasp of nutrition than this group. If you don’t think that this type of misinformation doesn’t impact the jobs of everyone in this room, guess again!
One implication of this situation is that you and everyone else in any part of agriculture, must recognize that the consumer is our customer, our client, our student and our judge. The farmer, the crops and animals, products and processes are still there, but all of us succeed or fail, based on the consumer (read public). We still must communicate with each other, but it is certainly no longer sufficient.
Let me give you two deplorable examples of what misinformation can do. About 10 years ago, a central African nation, under the control of a dictator, had a crop failure in corn, which was the major food crop. The United States offered to send 100,000 tons to prevent starvation. Several of the anti-GMO Organizations convinced the dictator to reject the corn because it had “those bad GMO’s. The man did, and hundreds of thousands died. In Asia, in the areas where rice is the major staple crop, there is a nutritional disease caused by the lack of vitamin A. Vitamin A is almost non-existent in rice. The disease manifests itself as causing blindness in children. Several companies, Non-government organizations, and other research organizations, isolated the gene for vitamin A and put it in the rice gene. One bowl of the Golden Rice (the grain was called golden because of the vitamin A content) per day is sufficient to completely prevent the disease. All of the organizations involved gave all rights, all of the research data, and all of the nutritional data to a non-profit organization, available to all. The anti-GMO’s brought enough bad information that it was dropped. Now, thousands of children are losing their eyesight because of those actions. I have little patience with those who are responsible for these two tragedies. The people impacted are dead or blind as surely as if they had been in a communist or Nazi death camp.
One other factor in the arena that we are in is that we are in a “zero sum game” when it comes to resources. This means, of course, that before we can start to do anything new, we must stop doing something else. This part of the job is more difficult and certainly more unpleasant.
Now as to an approach for all of us: our customers and yours, is not just the farmer, but perhaps more importantly, the consumer. It is not just every now and then; it is every day. We can do it; indeed, we must do it. For all of us, it means a change in how resources are allocated. It is not going to be easy. Change never is. Change is very much like planting trees. When a wise man was asked: When is the best time to plant a tree? His answer was: 30 years ago, and the next best time is today! I wish the best for all of you and the University of Kentucky. You, indeed all of us, have overcome tough situations. We can do it again.