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The Climate Corporation Expands Digital Ag Footprint

The Monsanto subsidiary aims to nearly double paid subscriptions in 2017.

The top corn yield in the 2015 National Corn Growers Association yield contest tallied 532 bushels per acre. Meanwhile, 2015’s average yield on the remaining 80.7 million U.S. corn acres harvested for grain tallied 168.4 bushels per acre.

So why the yield gap?

Well, yield is a function of genetics and the environment those genetics are exposed to, says Mike Stern, chief executive officer of The Climate Corporation.
Each growing season’s environment is out of your control. Still, tools exist that farmers can use while making their annual 40 to 50 agronomic decisions to help their crop better roll with environmental punches.

These include digital agriculture tools, says Stern. “For the first time, growers have the chance to use advanced analytics to address the variability they see as they harvest their fields,” he says.

This week, Stern and other officials for The Climate Corporation and parent company Monsanto discussed digital agriculture and other agricultural technology developments. Some of these technologies include the following.

• The Climate Corporation has more than 35 projects in its research and development pipeline. It’s also expanding its digital ag footprint. Its Climate FieldView platform is on more than 100 million acres across the U.S. and Brazil, with more than 100,000 U.S. farmers using Climate’s digital tools. The firm is also aiming to boost its paid services from last year’s 14 million acres to 25 million acres in 2017.

• Fertility management is a major focus of Climate’s plans. “Fertilizer is one of the most expensive inputs, but there have not been a lot of tools historically to manage it at a field level,” says Sam Eathington, chief scientist for The Climate Corporation. Besides nitrogen, Climate is also including phosphorus and potassium management in its product offerings. Other tools include in-field sensor networks that give farmers an improved look at what is actually happening in fields.

• Crop disease will also be a focus. “It (disease) is a difficult one to manage,” says Eathington. Solutions include an enhanced scouting tool that enables Climate customers to better pinpoint field disease. “We want to make it where we can be proactive in making (disease management) decisions, rather than being reactive,” says Eathington.

• Gene editing that uses CRISPR-Cas technology holds much promise. Gene editing has profound opportunities not only in agriculture, but also in health care and human medicine, says Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer.

Rather than introducing a new gene in the plant as in genetic modification, gene editing precisely changes genes already in the plant. That is one reason it is viewed differently from the public and regulatory perspective, says Fraley.

Compared with GMO technology, there may be less regulation and oversight with gene editing. Still, its benefits will need to be communicated to the public. Fraley admits miscommunication occurred between industry and the public when genetically modified technology debuted a couple decades ago. That’s why he notes that both industry and universities are getting out in front of explaining gene editing/CRISPR-Bas technology to the public.

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