Monsanto helping solve the Rubik’s Cube of farming

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“Farming is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube,” according to Ted Crosbie, Monsanto, vice-president global plant breeding.

The more closely a farmer comes to solving the cube, the higher the optimal yields while using the fewest resources, and completely solving the cube would be the highest optimal yields utilizing advanced agronomic practices, seed genetics and innovative on-farm technology.

“In any given year, even a year like this one, if we had tweaked things just right, we would have gotten another 10 bushels or 20 bushels, and in a good year maybe more than that. So, what IF (Monsanto’s Integrated Farming System) is really aimed at doing is figuring out that Rubik’s Cube,” said Crosbie.

The vice-president made his comments in a presentation earlier this fall when he noted that Monsanto is a biology company that has delved into being specialists in soil science and planting equipment, too. This expertise is coming about because of Monsanto’s IF team emphasis on soils and Monsanto’s purchase of Precision Planting, Inc.

During the 2012 growing season, because of the drought, in soil across fields and within small areas of fields, variations were easily visible. A slight hillside was the easiest place to see this variation. Crosbie explained that the variation could not be explained simply because of differences in soil type.

“Haven’t you seen more variation than you’ve ever seen on a soil map? More variation is out there and yield potential than you’ve ever seen in a standard soil map,” Crosbie said. “This year it was unmistakable that when God and the glaciers got done making soil, it wasn’t made uniform. So, you see all that variation out there.

The Monsanto IF team’s first step was to come up with a breakthrough “better way to map a field.” He said, “We needed a different map. If you sit in a combine, and you watch that yield monitor as you go across the field, and you know the soil map, there is not very much correlation between the changes in yield and that 50-year-old soil map.”

The second step for assisting farmers in selecting seed is testing germplasm across variable soil rather than on the best soil with the least variability. “If all this soil variation is true, and with the ability to create special yield maps, the new testing approach at Monsanto is to run our plots across all the variation. We can slice it and dice it and make comparisons within any zone,” Crosbie said.

Third success for the IF team is to chose the right germplasm product (seed) for specific field’s variations. For corn, it is “hybrid match based on a genetics suitability index.” He said, “We run our whole pipeline, all of our hybrids across all the soil variation and analyze data so that we can figure out which hybrids are better matched to each individual field. That is a gigantic database.”

These three determinations by the IF team now leads to specific Field Scripts—right germplasm to the soil variation—but the planter is a key component for yield that until Monsanto purchased Precision Planting had not been addressed. Now, Monsanto is much more than a company only focused on biology. The vice-president said, “We realized that corn planters aren’t planting accurately enough, by and large, to actually deliver all the yield from those (Monsanto) Field Scripts.”

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US  |  October, 29, 2012 at 09:11 AM

Regrettably all done for profit. If this is a miracle from above, as it sounds here, why are so many farmers in India committing suicide?

manhattan, ks.  |  October, 31, 2012 at 06:15 PM

Dave-I guess you don't work for money then right (aka profit)? You must be one of those rare people who doesn't have any bills to pay. Why exactly are farmers in India committing suicide? Nice random comment that makes no sense or has no information to back it up. People commit suicide all around the world is it all Monsanto's fault? How about if they farm but don't use Monsanto products? You must be another looney blaming some company for all the random evils in the world. Please when you comment make sure its valid for the topic.

November, 01, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Dr. Crosbie makes a very valid point that a lots of variability occur in soils, especially those soils formed in glacial deposited materials. However, we need to remember that most soil maps in the midwest U.S. are at a scale of 1:15840 or 1:12000 and that is why they are named soil surveys. If producer decides to identify the detailed soil variability that occurs across the landscape then a soil map at a scale of 1:100 or 1:200 or necessary. And of course the cost of these detailed, high intensity, soil maps are several magnitudes of order above the standard soil survey maps.

November, 01, 2012 at 02:40 PM

Crosbie, it is best you just stick to genetics and to the monoculture growing system with Roundup you know. This is your strength. Do not try to explain agronomy and crop production when you guys have never done this. Contrary to your comments, yields can be directly correlated to the soil type / landscape, especially when abiotic stress in put on a crop. It maybe time to get new soil scientists, or better yet, get some agronomists and plant nutritionists who can help explain things to you and hopefully help express the genetic potential of your seed varieties.

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