Monsanto looks to the future with new research platforms
By Doug Rich
Farmers and a large seed company share a common link—technology—to increase efficiency and production.
“The world is going to need more corn and soybeans at an accelerating rate, and the only way to get there is increased yields,” said Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, at a recent media session in St. Louis, Mo. “There simply is not enough farmland that can be put into production. Using the right tools to drive yield and productivity is the solution that will meet the demand for food in the future.”
Monsanto is putting research dollars into emerging platforms to meet that demand in the future. The most promising of those research platforms are Monsanto’s Integrated Farming Systems research platform called FieldScripts and BioDirect, an agricultural biological platform.
According to Monsanto, FieldScripts integrates their understanding of hybrid performance with the data farmers provide about their individual fields to identify the best hybrids and provide a variable rate planting prescription for each field. The process is led by FieldScripts certified dealers, delivered through the FieldView Plus app on the farmer’s iPad, and executed with precision equipment on the planter.
“We are getting ready to go into Ground Breakers with IFS FieldScripts this year,” Fraley said. “We will have that technology on nearly 10,000 acres involving about 150 farmers. We have brought that knowledge of genetics and the physical location of that farm together.”
“We are seeing biology and our understanding of genes match up to our understanding of the geography in the environment,” Fraley said. “We have the ability to understand a farmer’s field meter by meter.”
While many farmers own variable rate planters, there has not been a simple and accurate way to utilize them, according to Monsanto. Traditionally, variable rate seeding has been based on soil type or normalized yield, but these methods fall short of revealing the true picture of what is happening in the field or providing a means to plant accurately using that information.
According to Monsanto, FieldScripts allows the farmer to accurately plant a lower seeding rate in lower yielding areas of the field and a higher rate at higher yielding areas of the field, maximizing the yield potential of every seed.
Monsanto plans to go commercial with this technology in 2014.
“We will walk before we run with this technology,” said Hugh Grant, chairman and chief executive officer at Monsanto. “If you are in the business of issuing a script that says do this to that corner of the field and yields will move from X to Y, you need to be right.”
Under the heading of biological, Monsanto is working on two key platforms, one of these is BioDirect. BioDirect technology uses molecules found in nature that they can expect to develop for use in topically applied crop protection and other products. According to Monsanto BioDirect technology may enable specific and effective products with a wide range of applications including weed, insect, and virus control.
“It is at a stage that I would describe as one of the most exciting things I have seen in my career as a scientist, but we know there are challenges we need to address in terms of production, cost, and delivery,” Fraley said.
The second of the two key biological platforms has been the announcement of two acquisitions in the microbial space by Monsanto. These give scientists the ability to look at and to understand how they can screen and test microorganisms like bacteria and fungi that are part of the natural bio-system to optimize plant performance.
“There are bacteria that we think we can screen, test, and identify that can enhance yield by providing micro-nutrients to plants or by protecting them from certain disease and pests,” Fraley said.
These platforms are part of Monsanto’s future growth. Their key strength as a company is still germplasm.
“Biotech is contributing to that growth but when we get to the next layers of growth that is where we will start getting into those new platforms that we are building around biologicals and IFS,” said Pierre Courduroux, senior vice-president and chief financial officer at Monsanto. “It is not in the very near future that we will seed significant financial contributions from these, however, we are putting the base in place so that it is the next layer of growth.”
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at email@example.com.