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Food shortages were a foreign concept to many people until COVID-19 started to spread around the world. Panic buying of basics like dry pasta, flour and canned goods led to long lineups and bare shelves at grocery stores, forcing consumers to think more about where their food comes from.

“It was a stark reminder of how fragile the food system is and how important food security is for every country – whether it’s advanced or emerging,” says Chuck Magro, chief executive officer of Nutrien Ltd., the world’s largest provider of crop inputs such as seed and crop protection products used to grow corn, wheat and other food commodities critical to the global food supply.

While the binge food buying has largely abated, and the global supply chain carried on despite some COVID-related challenges, improving food security remains a top global concern.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that nearly 690 million people, or nearly 10 per cent of the world’s population, are hungry, up by 10 million since 2019. The FAO says the pandemic could add as many as 132 million people to this number. The impact of malnutrition on the global economy is estimated at US$3.5-trillion per year.

With the UN forecasting the global population will reach around 9.7 billion people by 2050, up from about 7.7 billion today, there is mounting pressure on the agriculture industry to increase food production — and in a responsible way that protects the planet.

Nutrien has a pivotal role in the ramp up of global food production, given its position at the start of the food supply chain. Each year, the company produces and distributes about 25 million tonnes of potash, nitrogen and phosphate nutrients for agricultural and industrial customers worldwide. It also has more than 2,000 retail locations in seven countries that provide products, services, advanced technology and agronomy expertise to more than 500,000 global growers.

“The entire company is built around what a farmer needs to be successful long term,” Mr. Magro says. “We work shoulder-to-shoulder with growers … helping make them even more productive, profitable and sustainable.”

Nutrien CEO Chuck Magro celebrating Nutrien’s partnership with Food Banks of Saskatchewan.Supplied

Nutrien has invested billions in more than 1,700 proprietary products that include innovative seed and nutrient and crop protection technologies that help growers focus not just on yield, but soil health and environmental sustainability. For example, its biocatalyst products help to increase the nutrients soaked up by the crops, which is more efficient and improves overall plant performance.

The company also has a digital hub that includes farm management tools, and an eCommerce platform, and also provides current weather conditions to help growers decide when to water their crops or apply much-needed products. Nutrien crop consultants and their grower customers can use the hub’s digital tools to more efficiently plan the growing season, monitor conditions and adapt accordingly.

“The digital tools help farmers make better decisions… to produce more food with fewer resources,” Mr. Magro says. “Our hub is a step-change in efficiency and decision-making on the farm.”

Nutrien also offers a sustainability calculator to help farmers capture data and quantify greenhouse gas savings against grower standard practices, which Mr. Magro describes as “the future of agriculture.”

He sees Nutrien’s role as “an independent crop advisor,” using the latest science and technology to provide growers with the best products and services to boost production and their bottom line, both economically and environmentally.

“From one end of our company to the other, everything we do at Nutrien is designed to help farmers grow their crops and grow their businesses,” says Mr. Magro. “When our customers succeed, we succeed – and together, we help feed a growing world.”

New technologies are critical to help increase food security, says John Jamieson, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity based in Guelph, Ont., a not-for-profit charitable organization that helps build trust in Canada’s food system through research and training.

“For some reason, there’s doubt around the use of science and technology in food production that we might not have in other areas,” such as health care, Mr. Jamieson says. “Science, technology and innovation are the things that will help to advance food security.”

Mr. Jamieson says agriculture companies like Nutrien play “a vital role in keeping the food flowing,” in part because they have the resources to invest in science and technology to improve growing conditions.

“Many are also committed to research, reducing their environmental footprint and trying to get as much production per acre as possible, knowing that our world population continues to grow every day,” he says.

Mr. Magro says Nutrien also has a responsibility to bring its technologies and agronomy expertise to growers in emerging countries such as India, China, Africa and Brazil, as part of its sustainability mandate.

“That’s an important way to drive up food productivity; make sure that those economies have healthy and nutritious food — and from a sustainability and climate perspective, help them minimize their emissions. That’s one of the roles I think we can and do play very well,” he says.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.