A Challenge To All

Nervous excitement. That’s the best way I can express what I saw at the Farm Progress Show last month. For some time, we — and I am sure many of you — have been anticipating the next big wave of biotechnology innovations. At the farm shows just a couple of years ago, companies were talking about a sort of “quiet period” for biotechnology. There were plenty of promises, sneak peeks, and sabre rattling about what was coming up, but it was much more sizzle than steak.

Get ready — the filet mignon is about to be served.

If you’re reading this after having read the cover story, then you’ve got a pretty clear picture of what’s on the near term horizon — lots of new offerings that will broaden the choices we have for managing weed and insect resistance, which is great news. And in the medium and longer term, we can look forward to even more new generation traits that will provide the seed with even greater abilities to resist Mother Nature’s challenges, improving performance and yield potential. Outstanding.

But back to the nervous excitement. One of the highlights of our visit to Farm Progress was taking a tour of the Monsanto display area, guided by the Chief Technology Officer himself, Robb Fraley. Now, Monsanto has made it a habit to make good on its promises to agriculture — indeed, Roundup Ready soybeans and insect-protected corn did turn agriculture crossways, taking billions of dollars out of the market (and out of your coffers as well).

Today, Monsanto’s promise — delivered by Fraley and his crew at Farm Progress — is even more sweeping: Double the year 2000’s average yield for corn and soybeans yields by 2030. The crystal clear mandate was echoed by each employee at each stop along Monsanto’s display — clearly, the message is already ingrained in the culture. But I would add a small phrase to the end of the corporate message to benefit all of you who did not get to Farm Progress: “By any means necessary.”

The display featured two impressive machines brought up from St. Louis, one performing soybean genome analysis and the second demonstrating how individual seeds are analyzed for their genetic contents at breakneck speed. Another section was a virtual museum of corn and soybean seed development, demonstrating the yield gains achieved from the earliest varieties and hybrids to today.

But it was the finale I found most fascinating: Monsanto is doing deep field research using precision agriculture, and has developed proprietary remote soil analysis software and prescription planting tools that growers will be able to use in the future.

Fraley and his folks have recognized that the genetics will get them most of the way to their goal, but they can’t get all the way there without solid agronomic recommendations. And they clearly intend to make a significant impact in that arena.

Nervous excitement, indeed. We’ve seen agriculture reinvent itself in a bit more than a decade. More reinvention is on the horizon. As the service provider and trusted advisor to the grower, you’ll need to ensure you’re deepening grower relationships and providing valuable and relevant services to clients. This is a challenge we all will face as we find our place in the next wave of biotechnology.

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