The Farm Progress Show is always solidly attended, even when the thermometer soars and the rains pour down. But this week's stellar weather -- sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s all three days-- brought the crowds in droves. I got to walk around, talk to folks and visit scores of displays, tents, and test plots, and my impression is that despite recent reports of the economic resession visiting agriculture, the mood is cautious optimism.
Of course, optimism runs along a broad continuum, and some are more optimistic than others. On the high end of the spectrum was Monsanto, which used its sizeable plot of ground to present the company';s view of the future.
Whether you love or hate the company, you have to admire its focus. These days, the charge handed down from top management couldn;t be clearer: Double the average yields in corn and soybeans from where they were in 2000 to where they will be in 2030. As you would expect, biotechnology was the rock star of the show, as Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer, led the tour group I was on through a display that was part museum and part science fiction. But, the science is far from fiction.
I won't try to describe the displays they brought to illustrate how seed genetics are tested and evaluated ... suffice to say that seeing it gives you the feeling that their aggressive goals for delivering improvements such as drought tolerance within the next 3 to 5 years seem within reach. But I was particularly interested in another aspect of its drive to improve yeild: precision technology.
For the past two years, Monsanto has been quietly developing tools for evaluating planting and field variables and their effect on the varieties they sell, so that they can make better agronomic recommendations to growers who choose to plant Monsanto brand family seed. The picture shown here is one of two high tech planters that Monsanto is using to precisely vary seed rate and row spacing in field testing.
But the story continues. Monsanto has developed proprietary analysis tools for creating soil profiles and crop condition mapping. The object will be to provide these tools to growers to use in planning and planting Monsanto varieties. They are partnering with SST Software and Raven Industries on the software and controller technology and eventually hope to provide a robust precision solution that gets Monsanto, and growers, a little closer to that "double yield" goal.
Monsanto believes that 5% to 7% of the yield needed to meet its 2030 goal must come from agronomics. So you can believe that you'll be hearing more about this in the months and years ahead.