BASF celebrates 150 years of food and agriculture: Let's look at the year 1865 – exciting times for agriculture and food
The year BASF was founded was a time when fundamental changes were taking place. In echoes of what is happening today, nations were being shaped; new ways of living and working were being developed and farming had to rise to the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing population.
It is estimated that the population of the world was 1.4 billion in 1865. Since that time the world's population has increased almost five-fold. In 1865 around 60 % of the world's population lived in Asia, but what was striking was the power of Europe. Then 22 % of the world’s people were European. Now it is 10 %. Africa's population jump from 9 % to 16 %. Latin Americans now account for 9 % of the world population; in 1865 it was 3 %. 2 % of the world's population was Northern American. Now it is 5 %.
Farming was a lot less global than it is today. The diet of most people was based on products that could be made from locally grown grains (by the way: in 1865 there was only one truly global crop: wheat. The adoption of new techniques and technology helped drive the rapid increase in farming from 1865 onwards and the ability to move the harvested crops from where they were grown across the world.
In the same year that BASF was born, US agricultural machinery company John Deere received a patent for its smooth-sided steel plough and was able to sell more than 1,000 farm implements a month. Meanwhile, in what is now Austria, a monk called Gregor Mendel was conducting genetic experiments on peas and laying down the foundations of modern-day plant breeding. At the same time a teenage Luther Burbank was developing his interest in plant breeding which would eventually see him introduce more than 800 plant varieties including the Russet Burbank which is still the most widely grown potato in America. Breeders since 1865 have built on the knowledge of these pioneers to develop an astounding range of high-yielding crops that help feed the world.
Transport and communication technology also contributed to agricultural progress: steam engines and railways prompting greater movement of people and goods and opening up Pacific markets to countries fringing the Atlantic.
In North America railways had their greatest impact: between 1860 and 1870 more than 30,000 kilometres of railway had been laid taking the total to nearly 80,000 kilometres, and by 1890 that figure had risen to 260,000 kilometres. By the end of the century an often quoted, but unattributable statistic says that 80 % of farms in the Midwestern cornbelt were within 10 miles of a railway.
Throughout the nineteenth century telegram systems were being developed in many countries – huge step forward also for farmers around the world: general exchange or listening to trade information became part of the daily routine. During 1865 an international system of telegraph standardisation was introduced and instant global communication was born; something that continues to shape the way we live and do business today.
It is no coincidence that into a world that was being altered by forces that are still changing our world today, Badische Anilin- & Sodafabrik (BASF) was born. It may have originally been focused on providing dyes for the rapidly expanding textile industry, but it was soon also turning its attention to giving farmers the technology they needed to feed a growing and wealthier world population. With the world’s population expected to rise by another 40% in the next 50 years to 10.2 billion people, that dedication to farming, the biggest job on earth is needed now just as much as it was 150 years ago.