Monsanto helping solve the Rubik’s Cube of farming
“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.”