Just as crossing inbred lines creates a more productive hybrid, Monsanto is bringing a triple cross of technologies to the field in hopes of taking that hybrid's productivity to a new level.
Full-service ag retailers and seed dealers involved in the effort may see their own productivity jump. Dubbed FieldScripts, it is the first product released by Monsanto's Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) research platform. It involves more precise hybrid recommendations, precision seed placement and variable rate technology (VRT) planting. This coming season, 46 Ground Breakers dealers like Jamie Brand and Agriland FS, Winterset, Iowa, will put the concept to the test.
"We hadn't worked with VRT planting maps in the past, nor had we had more than minimal involvement with Precision Planting's technology (Monsanto's recent acquisition)," said Brand. "Different people based VRT maps on different things, but we knew there had to be more components to them. When we saw the in-depth science behind FieldScripts and the process and equipment that matches it, only then did we get excited about VRT planting. FieldScripts could take us to the next level of yields, something we didn't think VRT planting had yet done."
CHALLENGES TO GETTING IT OFF THE GROUND
Although VRT planting recommendation is a growing service for many retailers, it certainly hasn't kept up with the availability of VRT planters. "Field research suggests that while 60 percent of planters in the field are VRT capable, only about half of them or less are being used for that purpose," said Dave Rhylander, FieldScripts marketing lead. "Some farmers, no doubt, have used VRT planting and seen yield improvements. However, from what we've seen, others lack confidence in building a prescription, or if they are using VRT planting, they aren't seeing yield improvements."
Rhylander likened the use of VRT planting to no-till soybean drills. "The no-till drills were out there, but farmers couldn't get them to work until they had Roundup Ready technology that gave them the weed control they needed," he said. "We are using science to build better prescriptions for seeding rates that will give them confidence."
That science includes in-depth knowledge of how the company's DeKalb hybrids react to a wide variety of field conditions. Gathering that knowledge affects how those hybrids are evaluated. Test strips of 50 feet have long been the industry norm, with a tendency to select optimum spots for test strips. DeKalb now puts its hybrids through FieldScripts testing with 1,000-foot strips in multiple field environments.
"Hybrids have to go through two years of that testing for us to feel confident we can write a prescription," said Rhylander. "The testing tells us how the hybrid responds to a poor environment as well as a good one. It gives us better knowledge about the science of our seed, which is what IFS is all about."
FieldScripts is about more than just the seed. How the seed is handled and positioned in the soil is a key component and the reason Monsanto acquired Precision Planting. Since the mid 1990s, Precision Planting had been at the forefront of fine-tuning seed placement. That included precise depth, seed to soil contact and spacing. It also included the ability to change seeding rates rapidly and accurately.
"Precision Planting had the equipment that could help us deliver on the Integrated Farming Systems platform," said Rhylander. "We don't intend to compete with implement manufacturers—our intent is to partner with them. However, Precision Planting had great science and technology that, with our ownership, will let us go where we want with planting platforms in the future."
MULTIPLE RETAILERS INVOLVED
Where FieldScripts is going in the immediate future is to roughly 140 growers across the Corn Belt. The 46 participating dealers include independent seed dealers and full-service ag retailers with seed sales divisions of every kind. Knowledge about Precision Planting tools ranged from Brand's lack of familiarity to nine who were Precision Planting dealers as well as seedsmen.
"We are trying to get every kind of dealer, from independents to co-ops to retailers with Helena and CPS," said Rhylander. "We want to make sure farmers have a choice of retailers offering FieldScripts."
Each dealer was charged with finding up to three farmers who either had the required equipment components or were willing to buy them. The farmers also had to be willing to share in-depth information on trial fields. Dealers took part in two training sessions, the first an overview of the program and the information needed. A second session in February involved data analysis, hybrid selection and data transfer.
"We asked them to work with their farmers to provide—field boundaries, two years of yield data, soil tests on 2 1/2-acre grids,” said Rhylander. "Once they submitted that information and we analyzed it, we recommended four to five hybrids that would fit the field."
What is clear about FieldScripts is there is no shortcut. The detailed information gathered makes each field unique as to how the different hybrids react under the various environments presented by each field. With the aid of specially developed algorithms, hybrid recommendations and a variable rate planting prescription is developed for each field.
"If someone says, we'll take a script for the selected hybrid and field and use it with a different hybrid in that field, it won't work," said Rhylander. "It won't even work for other DeKalb hybrids. Each of the four or five hybrids recommended for a particular field will have a different script based on our science."
Receiving the final script is only one of the benefits Brand sees with the program. Perhaps more important for the dealership was the time spent with the grower. "It was a very interactive process, both gathering the information and selecting the hybrid," he said. "Monsanto didn't just take the information and deliver a script and hybrid to use. We spent a lot of time with the grower discussing field potential and challenges and setting parameters for growth. It led to deeper conversations about how we fertilize, what the root environment is and questions about tillage. It has strengthened the relationship between us, the grower, DeKalb and IFS."
DATA TRANSFER IS EASY
Although information gathered and the resulting discussions have been complex, transfer of the data is simple. Monsanto settled on iPads for the vehicle. Industry research indicated approximately 50 percent of farmers already have iPads.
"We will download FieldScripts to farmers via their iPad, which they can then use to transfer the prescription to their 20/20 Seed Sense via the Fieldview app," explained Rhylander. "At the end of the season, they can use the iPad to transfer data back to us for analysis."
The information loop is key to the success of the program and its expansion to the full market in 2014. "It will help us better understand how our hybrids perform in a wider variety of environments, which will lead to better decisions and recommendations in the future," said Rhylander. "This will benefit repeat growers, but also those new to FieldScripts."
Brand noted that the program and the experience garnered have encouraged Agriland FS to look beyond seeds and traits. While it is an awareness that will help the organization serve all its customers, Brand recognized that these new technologies and even the FieldScripts program isn't for everyone.
"We carry three seed corn brands," he said. "We look at what's in the best interest of our growers and what they are looking for. Different growers have different needs and adopt technology differently."
That said, he admitted he hasn't seen other brands offering anything like FieldScripts at this time. "Everyone is looking for something they can bring to the table that is not easily duplicated," said Brand. "That is a challenge. We're excited about what FieldScripts offers our more progressive growers, those who embrace technology. It is a particularly good offering for these growers."