Three fundamental technologies producing breakthroughs in agricultural production are converging, according to Robb Fraley, chief technology officer at Monsanto Company. The technologies are plant breeding, biotechnology and precision farming.
“It is all going to come together in terms of sophisticated management, literally foot by foot or meter by meter, across a farming operation. And what is important is all this begins to intersect because if we use breeding techniques to change the genetics and yield potential, and we understand how the 45,000 genes in that corn plant or soybean plant, not only drive yield, but how they interact with different soil types, how they interact under different moisture, how they react with different fertilization, then that precise knowledge starts to tailor the positioning of seed optimally on a farm,” he said during the closing presentation of the recent AgroNomics—Vision 2012 investment conference and annual meeting of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.
Fraley provided an example to simplify his explanation. “The optimal planting system is really probably going to be three or four hybrids per field because unless you are in Champaign County in Illinois, there is no such thing as a uniform field.”
“We will see more changes in farming in the next 20 years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years because we have so much phenomenal technology,” Fraley said.
"We are at the very beginning of this explosive technology curve from a biotech perspective. In fact, if I do a good job in leading research for Monsanto, over the next decade we will launch over 35 tech products, brand new ones that you haven’t seen today, across the crops and countries we operate in,” he said.
He based his comments on what is in the pipeline and what could follow. He noted that only a small number of genes and their functions have actually been identified so far but new computerized equipment and research systems are speeding discovery almost unbelievably. He said of the whole universe of genes that have been studied and tested from genes in plants, fungal organisms, micro-organisms, etc., the scientists have looked at a miniscule number of them.
Fraley reflected on the early biotech progress with insect-resistant corn. “The first corn trait that was launched was a caterpillar gene in corn. Then we had the triple stack; today we have the eight-gene stack. Our breeders right now are working to include 15 or 20 traits in that one plant.”