Monsanto’s Big Move
Way back in the dark ages of modern technology — September 2009, to be precise — I wrote a blog post on the PrecisionAg Network, my humble technology kingdom, from a hotel room in central Illinois.
Back late from a long, hot day walking the grounds of the Farm Progress Show, I whipped up a piece I titled “The Future According To Monsanto.” It was in 2009 that Monsanto publicly challenged itself to effectively double average row crop yields in 2030 (vs. the average yields recorded in 2000) through a combination of trait and variety improvement and best planting and agronomic practices. So Farm Progress was ground zero for explaining how they intended to achieve this goal.
I remember the Monsanto area of the show as being impressive and overwhelming, and the media was given a personal tour of the display and festivities by Dr. Robb Fraley, chief technology officer. It was all pretty much what you would have expected until the end, when Fraley unveiled Monsanto’s agronomic research efforts.
By its own estimates, Monsanto said at the time it believed that 5% to 7% of the improvement in yield would need to come from agronomic sources — understanding the impact of field and weather variables on specific varieties, hybrids and traits, and reacting accordingly.
It was clearly not lip service. As I wrote in 2009: “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.”
Flash forward to 2012, and we find the company making good on its promises through the acquisition of planter technology company Precision Planting. And with it the promise of delivering to growers specific recommendations for variables such as planting depth and population per acre that would be tied agronomically, and one would assume financially, to specific hybrids and varieties.
Now, there’s still a ways to go before Monsanto will have fully ingested and incorporated Precision Planting technology into its own Integrated Farming System vision. In its own words, Monsanto says that “the 2012 program includes additional on-farm pilot trials with an eye toward future enhancements, including recommendations for seed optimization through next generation planting, fertility and water management.”
Should full-service retailers be threatened by this development? I talked to a couple of folks I know with strong ties to a number ag retailers who provide services to growers, including seed placement recommendations, to get some sense of the concern. The consensus is that where market and agronomic knowledge and customer relationships are strong, the threat is low. But where service is lacking and relationships are weak, Monsanto may find a more willing and open audience.
What this will mean for full service retailers has yet to be seen, as it’s not clear how Monsanto will deliver information and services, and how or if it might be attached to the seed purchase. But it’s a development that retailers will need to be watching closely in the months and years ahead.