Building the Optimum Planting App

5/11/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

Monsanto Hopes to Match Seed to Field Types

Technology isn’t new to Elizabethtown farmer Jim Hershey.

He’s invested thousands of dollars in on-board computers for his planter and combine, automatic row shutoffs for his planter, and just recently, a new self-propelled sprayer.

He has the ability to map his fields, track yields and figure out what sprays work best and when.

“We’ve saved ourselves lots of dollars in seed and herbicide,” Hershey said.

Until now, he could only imagine having the ability to plant a different seed hybrid to match each soil type in his fields.

Yet that’s what’s happening on his farm this season.

His is one of three farms in Lancaster County being evaluated by Monsanto as part of a new precision planting technology it’s rolling out.

Called FieldScripts, the technology is designed to match Monsanto’s seed hybrids to specific field conditions.

Imagine farmers being able to go to their seed dealers and provide such information as soil types and topography for their fields. Monsanto hopes that one day, those dealers will be able to take that information and, using FieldScripts, order a “prescription” to match seed to each combination of conditions.

Using an iPad, the farmer would then plug in the prescription and let the technology control the planting.

The hope is that by marrying seed hybrids to specific soil conditions, farmers will be able to increase their crop yields.

For the company, being able to match its products to a farmer’s specific needs would give it a distinct edge in sales over its competitors.

Christy Toedebusch, public affairs director for Monsanto, said the FieldScripts technology is being rolled out this season on 150 farms in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota through its Dekalb seed brand.

A full launch is expected in the fall, and by 2015, Toedebusch said, FieldScripts could be expanded to other states in the Midwest.

Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states might not have FieldScripts available until 2016, but the company is already laying the foundation for a future launch here.

The company is gathering information from farms in this area to create a database to match specific hybrids to our soil types and topography.

Dan Gard, Monsanto’s sales manager for Lancaster County, said on-farm trials in this area have been going on for the past three years, mostly on farms in Franklin and Lancaster counties.

This is the first year that farm trials have been expanded across Pennsylvania, and trials are now under way in neighboring states as well.

“On your good ground, all hybrids do well,” Gard said. “What we’re trying to figure out is how you bring productivity up on your bad ground. So not all hybrids work the same on all soil types.”

A 12-acre plot was planted Monday at Hershey’s farm, as well as at Curtis Hoover’s farm in Manheim and Darren Weaver’s farm in Elizabethtown.

Gard said he’s found some interesting results from the trials. For one thing, the best seeds do not all do well on all ground.

He’s also seen a correlation between seeding density and yields, especially in soybeans, even though the company is not rolling out its FieldScripts technology for soybeans just yet.

“The lower population soybeans are actually yielding the best and returning the most income for the growers,” Gard said.

“High soybean populations are not necessarily a good thing,” he said, adding that several factors could be contributing to that, including the fact that soybeans are good at adapting to soil conditions and aren’t as sensitive as other plants to the number of growing degree days.

Toedebusch said the company hopes to eventually have FieldScripts available across all its seed corn brands, but that research into soybeans and other crops has just begun.

She said the system can increase yields by five to 10 bushels per acre, depending on the farm.

For a typical farmer, that would require a pretty hefty upfront investment, not only for Monsanto’s technology but also to purchase the on-board computers and other equipment needed to use the technology in the field.

But Gard said he thinks the technology could open up some additional opportunities for farm implement operators who do a lot of custom planting.

“You’ll have guys that will adapt to it real quickly,” he said. “I think once a couple of the guys adopt it, they’ll be able to actually share with their customers they are custom planting for and say, hey look, I’ve been doing this for the last three or four years, these hybrids will work better on your farm than some of these other hybrids.’ ”

Don’t count on Hershey being the first one to adopt the new technology. He wants to see some results before diving in.

“I think it’s years off until they are able to come up with a system that is going to be economically feasible for us grain farmers to even adopt that technology,” he said.

Still, he’s eager to see if it’s something he might want to dabble in.

“I’m not the first guy to jump on the bandwagon, but I’m anxious to see where the technology goes. I guess I feel in this area of Pennsylvania, it might be a little slower in catching on than some of your larger grain-producing acres,” he said.

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