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Envisioning the future of ag

By Staff | Mar 27, 2009

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says Iowa farmers add greatly to the state’s economy, almost invisibly sometimes.

WALL LAKE – Famous business consultant Peter Drucker once noted that the best way to predict the future is to create it. During a recent crop production meeting in Wall Lake, northwest Iowa farmers were challenged to envision the possibilities for the future of farming, from achieving 300-bushel average corn yields to preserving the rural traditions that have made Iowa great.

“Meeting the global demand for food, fuel and feed while promoting sustainability will require innovative plant breeding programs, biotechnology, and agronomics, including precision agriculture and plant health protection,” said John Jansen, a business development strategy leader with Monsanto AgriServices. Jansen spoke at the “Better Information for a More Profitable Operation” crop fair.

Determining the right planting populations will be the key to doubling crop yields in the years ahead, he added. This will require more use of precision farming technology, from variable rate planting to remote sensing. Jansen noted that nearly 40 percent of Iowa farmers have access to variable rate seeding technology, but only about half of them use it.

“Farmers also continue to struggle with managing the data from their yield monitors in a meaningful way.

“Based on what farmers tell me, seven out of 10 download information from their monitor to their home computer, but only about one in 10 actually do anything with the data,” Jansen said. “However, accounting for different soil types in a field and getting the right planting populations will be the key to boosting yields in the years ahead.”

John Jansen, a business development strategy leader with Monsanto Agri-Services, discussed the goal of reaching 300-bushel average corn yields with farmers in Wall Lake recently.

Growing smarter

As precision farming continues to evolve, better in-season satellite technology will help farmers maximize their crops’ potential during the growing season, Jansen added, who noted that Monsanto is entering the imagery technology business by working with Colorado-based EarthMap Solutions. “New expertise in geographic information systems and remote sensing will help us improve seed production and provide better agronomic information to growers.”

This technology will complement advances in seed genetics, such as Monsanto’s SmartStax corn, which combines eight modes of action in multiple traits and provides comprehensive weed-control package, along with season-long yield protection for above- and below-ground insect protection.

In addition, the company is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a refuge reduction with SmartStax.

Drought-tolerant corn is another major focus, Jansen said. Since water policies and water rights will continue to become increasingly important in the next decade, especially in the West, Monsanto is directing a significant percent of its research dollars toward biotechnology that can help plants use water more efficiently while producing higher yields.

The company plans to launch its first-generation drought-tolerant corn product in 2012 for the Western Corn Belt. Monsanto’s second-generation drought event, which is slated for release around 2014, will be a good fit for Iowa, Jansen added.

Monsanto researchers are also focusing on nitrogen utilization corn. They are currently testing genes to identify opportunities for normalized yields in low-nitrogen environments and for higher yields under normal nitrogen conditions.

“There’s a lot of exciting technology on the horizon to help you manage your farm better and make the 300-bushel-per-acre average yield possible. We’re at the early stages, but we’ll keep working on crop breeding programs and new seed genetics to make this happen.”

Appreciation for ag

The new technologies for boosting yields, while conserving natural resources, reflect the key role that agriculture can continue to play in Iowa’s future, said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who also spoke at the Wall Lake conference. “Sometimes people outside of agriculture appreciate Iowa ag more than Iowans do.

“We may not be as high-profile as a Microsoft data center, but farmers add greatly to the state’s economy, almost invisibly sometimes.”

For example, many Iowans are surprised to learn that Iowa produces more than 14 billion eggs each year – enough to supply two eggs to every person around the world. In addition, innovations in seed genetics to help farmers produce more with less will take on added importance in light of existing environmental regulations, like the Clean Water Act, and potential legislation, which could some day affect anhydrous and fertilizer applications on farmland, Northey said. “Just because we see agriculture around us every day doesn’t mean that it should be taken for granted, especially in these times of political and economic uncertainty.”

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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