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Sustainable Investing: Large-Cap Ag Stocks In Focus

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Advances in environmentally responsible farm technology make companies like Monsanto, Deere, and Potash good long-term investments.

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The goal of many sustainable investors is to align their investment decisions with their ideals on issues ranging from natural resource stewardship to corporate governance and community interaction. Similar to philanthropy, the objective of sustainable investing is to improve the world in some way while advancing one's personal investment goals at the same time. Today I wanted to share one investment idea that may not jump out as a sustainable-investing option at first glance: investing in the large agricultural, biotechnology, and equipment companies such as Monsanto (NYSE:MON), Deere & Company (NYSE:DE), and Potash (NYSE:POT), among others.

Most investors agree that, from a long-term investment thesis perspective, these companies are well-positioned to capitalize on the world's increasing demand for food from a shrinking base of arable land. But how do these companies represent a sustainable investment? In the case of Monsanto, many of its GMO seeds are developed with "the purpose of using less area, less energy, less pesticide, and less maintenance than conventional crops. They also mean we can grow food in new areas around the globe. With the tools to feed the world with viable crops closer to the poles, we can preserve the more bio-diverse regions close to the equatorial zones" (see: The Republican Party Isn't Really the Anti-Science Party).

Furthermore, farm equipment-makers such as John Deere now incorporate advanced GPS technology that increases efficiency in everything from planting and harvesting to the application of fertilizer and pesticides. For example, new "smart booms" allow farmers to map a field and apply fertilizer using variable application rates. So if an area needs less or no fertilizer at all, the boom, using GPS technology, recognizes where it is on the field and automatically modifies the application rate as needed, significantly reducing the risks posed by fertilization.

Additionally, new tractors have computers that monitor ground speed and seed loss, while using air drills that can precisely place a seed; so if you want one seed per inch, that is what you get. This a far cry from the older, less precise gravity drills. Lastly, conventional wisdom dictates that size and sustainability are mutually exclusive. However, new, bigger farm machines mean that farmers can harvest up to 300 acres of wheat per day with one machine, while only a few years ago it would have taken three; this also means less gas, fewer emissions, and not only a larger but a more sustainable harvest.

Conventional wisdom says that small-scale agriculture, like the local organic farm, is the sustainable option and writes off larger corporate agriculture companies as planet destroyers. The reality is that many of these large agriculture companies are developing technology and new products that will allow us to feed more people, on less land, using fewer resources, which makes them potentially attractive options for sustainable investors.

Twitter: @joshuaschroede2

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on investing and economics site, See It Market.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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