Exclusive: Monsanto's New Integrated Farming System

August 27, 2012 06:32 AM
Exclusive: Monsanto's New Integrated Farming System

A first look at Monsanto’s Integrated Farming Systems and its initial commercial offering, FieldScripts

By Ben Potter and Charlene Finck

When you visit your family physician, he leans on years of training and taps into a vast network of established knowledge. But before he can write an accurate prescription, he has to diagnose your symptoms.

That analogy captures the spirit of FieldScripts, Monsanto Company’s first product to come from its Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) platform, and its first foray into what the company calls "seed by environment" farming.

"The space that we feel we can really add value to for farmers is on seed science," says John Raines, IFS business lead for Monsanto. "We’ve developed proprietary algorithms to help farmers take information into the cab of their tractor."

The backbone of FieldScripts is an enormous cache of field trial data that Monsanto has collected, analyzed and sorted during the past decade. It paints an amazingly detailed picture that nonetheless falls a few pixels short unless one more critical puzzle piece comes into play.

"The other piece is some specific knowledge about each field from the farmer," Raines says. "This is a true business partnership. It’s about working with farmers who really want to help drive their yields and reduce risks."

In 2013, FieldScripts will double its testing efforts through Monsanto’s Ground Breakers research program with DeKalb corn hybrids. It will be commercially available in 2014.

p28 Following the Script 2
Farmers using FieldScripts in the field see a view similar to this on an iPad in their tractor cab. Called FieldView, it shows producers the execution of the prescription written for specific areas of the field.

"With IFS, we’re combining our knowledge of the genetics of the seed with all of the computer technology, the geo-spatial and field analytics to create an opportunity for growers to be more precise and optimize yields every few feet in the field," says Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Monsanto.

FieldScriptsFarmers will continue to buy their DeKalb seed as they normally would, and then work with their dealer if they want to use the optional FieldScripts service. They pay a per-acre fee, but prices have not yet been set.

Raines says initial users of FieldScripts will be somewhat self-selected: the farmers likely to use the product are the ones already dabbling in VRT and likely have the equipment needed to get started (a Precision Planting 20/20 SeedSense setup, for example).

At this point, FieldScripts is only compatible with equipment produced by Precision Planting, the company purchased by Monsanto this summer. In the future, IFS will be compatible with equipment from most major equipment companies.

To ensure its seed dealers are prepared, Monsanto is offering certified training for select dealers in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana in time for the limited launch. Certified dealers will need a dedicated agronomist on staff and the DeKalb dealer will be the point person for much of the day-to-day interaction and troubleshooting. As Raines puts it, "The certified dealer agronomist is the doctor."

Future rollouts will widen geography and scope. More Monsanto corn brands and crops will be added. Down the road, IFS will also have applications that cover variable management of fertility, crop protection and water.

Farmer experience. Kip Tom of Leesburg, Ind., was the first farmer to test IFS. Tom Farms tested the system on 120 acres the first year and jumped to 8,000 acres the next year, after seeing the powerful impact it had on yield.

From that start, Monsanto has branched out to include about 40 farmers in the FieldScripts pilot program. One of those producers is Jay Norton, who farms near Hull, Ill.

He synced three years of yield data from 400 acres and sent it to Monsanto. The IFS team took this data and matched his field to fields with similar soil compositions and environmental conditions in their extensive database.

Norton says the prescription he received surprised him a little—but the important thing was that it worked.

"The recommended variable-rate planting population varied from 28,000 to 48,000 plants per acre," he says.

Norton's provides a harvest update and his experience with the program:

The follow-up after the initial prescription has brought additional insight. He and his agronomist walked his fields around the V7 to V8 growth stage for some "ground truthing" and then again just prior to harvest to track the prescription’s progress.

The core idea behind FieldScripts was the brainchild of Ted Crosbie, head of Monsanto’s IFS Research and Development, who was working with planting populations on his own farm.

"If I didn’t farm, I don’t think we’d even have IFS," he says.

p30 Following the Script 1
p30 Following the Script 2
The new 20/20 DeltaForce introduced by Precision Planting this fall provides instantaneous down pressure control to John Deere, Kinze and CNH planters. Weight sensors and hydraulic cylinders allow each row to independently react to changing soil conditions—and change the down pressure every 18" or less.

Monsanto is already hard at work on future versions, each of which will pack potential incremental yield increases. One item sits firmly atop Crosbie’s current wish list: a machine that can plant multiple hybrids.

"If we had a planter that would essentially paint a field like an inkjet printer paints a soil map, where it could change varieties at will, we’d be a couple of years ahead of schedule," he says. "We have the hybrid algorithms figured out already, we’re just waiting on equipment."

For now, Monsanto is content with how tech tools from Precision Planting can demonstrate what’s possible and bring the yield gains to life.

Read More:


Related Video:

This is John Raines, Integrated Farming Systems business lead for Monsanto, talking about a new product under development that the company expects to have commercially available by 2014. 


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