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Monsanto Launches New Prescription Planting Product

Monsanto has launched its FieldScripts product, which it says provides easy-to-use planting prescriptions and hybrid recommendations to farmers.

“We are now entering the era of computerization of the farm,” says Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer.

FieldScripts is Monsanto’s first product from its Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) platform.  Participating farmers will provide inputs like field boundaries, yield data and soil fertility test results to their DeKalb (Monsanto-owned) seed dealer. Monsanto will then use its seed-by-environment data to give a hybrid and variable rate seeding rate recommendation based on 10-meter by 10-meter yield zones for each field in the program. This prescription will be provided through Monsanto-owned Precision Planting’s FieldView app for the iPad handheld device in the farmer’s tractor. This prescription will be delivered using Precision Planting’s 20/20 SeedSense monitor and planter control system.

Field Scripts won’t be available for farmers until 2014, and then just in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana. In 2013, farmers in these four states will test FieldScripts in Monsanto’s Ground Breakers testing program.

Initially, it will be limited to just Monsanto’s DeKalb hybrids, with plans to expand to other Monsanto-owned and Monsanto-affiliated brands in the future. Although populations will be varied across program fields, just one hybrid will be planted in each field. Eventually, multiple hybrids may be planted in the same field. The program will be eventually expanded to farmers in other states. Subscriptions will be sold on a per field basis.

Rubik’s Cube

“Farming is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube,” notes Ted Crosbie, Monsanto IFS Strategy Lead. “As farmers, we think if we can just figure out how to move that cube, and tweak it just right, we can get another 10 bushels or so. That is what IFS is aimed at doing, to figure out that Rubik’s cube.”

Field Scripts also aims at enabling farmers to better deal with field variability. In a normal rainfall year, it’s difficult to pinpoint soil variability doing a windshield survey, says Crosbie. Drought years are different, with lighter soil areas in a field readily showing glaring drought symptoms. “There is more yield variation out there than you’ll ever see in a soil map,” he says.

IFS figures out a better way to map a field, he says. Monsanto is also retooling its varietal pipeline in evaluating its germplasm against all the spatial variation in a field.

“When we test our system, we run our whole pipeline through all that soil variation and analyze which hybrids are matched to each individual field,” he says.

Precision’s Planting seed placement and seed spacing then comes into play to accurately meter seed. Greg Sauder, president of Precision Planting, says three goals exist in seed placement:

  1. Picket-fence stand establishment, where every seed is spaced nearly perfectly.
  2. Even emergence, where plants all emerge simultaneously.
  3. Proper root establishment following planting.

FieldScripts pricing will be on a per field basis, and will occur separately from the cost of seed. Price amount has not been set. Monsanto officials say the technology will be priced according to value. Equipment needed to retrofit a planter will cost around $30,000, although Monsanto officials say many famers already have some or nearly all of the equipment on their planters. Monsanto officials say participating farmers can expect a 10 bushels per acre yield bump on corn from using the FieldScripts technology.

Convergence of Technology

Kip Tom, a Leesburg, Indiana, farmer, has been one of the farmers testing the technology in recent years.

“I am excited,” he says. “We are at the convergence of innovation.”

He notes variety selection has grown by leaps and bounds since he started farming in 1974. “Today is so different,” he says. “We are using science and technology rather than relying on someone using a sales pitch.”

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