Monsanto Highlights Technology at “Yields of Tomorrow” Tour

September 2, 2009

By Nick Weber

A planter from the 1940's does not compare...

A planter from the 1940's does not compare...

The Gen V planter a one-of-a-kind research planter

to the Gen V planter, a one-of-a-kind research planter

Farmers saw a series of “firsts” at the Monsanto “Yields of Tomorrow” tour at the 2009 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., today. I had the pleasure of viewing some of the new technology first hand.

Along with the rest of my tour group, I got a behind-the-scenes look at how Monsanto uses molecular information and marker-assisted breeding and backcrossing to pinpoint the best possible features in seeds to be used for future seeds and traits at the “Monsanto Lab.” In fact, we saw the sequencing of a Monsanto soybean genome line. Monsanto also revealed its Corn Chipper for the first time to the public. The chipper slices a small part of a corn seed for genetic analysis, but the seed is still able to be planted.

Growers also viewed two prototype planters.

The Gen V planter allows Monsanto researchers to organize and precisely manage seed and information for field trials. The cool thing about the planter was how it evaluates various populations of hybrids at 20- and 30-inch rows at every replicated trial site. Controlled by GPS, the Gen V allows Monsanto to plant more than 35,000 plots in one season! The replication of the trials in various planting populations allows researchers to gather the most complete information about the best seeding rate for various areas.

Another experimental planter, developed with combined research efforts of agronomists, engineers and computer scientists, allows Monsanto researchers to vary population seeding rate, row by row, based on soil and yield maps. This type of planter would increase the probability of a farmer increasing his yield across all acres.

We also saw Monsanto’s advances in breeding, biotech and agronomics—the three pillars of Monsanto’s goal to double yields in the core crops of corn, soybeans and cotton by 2030.

7 Responses to “Monsanto Highlights Technology at “Yields of Tomorrow” Tour”

  1. Deborah Rubin Says:

    How does Monsanto hope to double yields by 2030?

    • Kathleen Says:


      The technology Nick talks about in the post are a big part of how we are going to double yields. Our goal to double yields is based on advances in breeding, a portion on biotechnology innovations, and a portion on best practices in agronomy. So by doing exactly what we are doing everyday we are working towards doubling yields. The advances in technology and farming over the past years, and the different technologies we have coming down the pipeline will keep us on track.

  2. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I was hoping for a bit more detail for those of us who were not able to attend the 2009 Farm Progress Show. These terms–“advances in breeding, a portion on biotechnology innovations, and a portion on best practices in agronomy”–are rather vague. What percent yield increase do you expect from each of the three methods?

    • Kathleen Says:


      We expect to double yields, so a 100% increase over all. I am going to stay away from forward looking statements such as exact percent yield increases, but I will explain each method using corn as an example.

      Breeding creates new varieties that perform better in the field. Through breeding, a company is researching approaches to improve the corn crop. For example, Monsanto has a wide variety of corn seed germplasm from all over the world. We’re researching approaches for yield stability, grain quality, good performance in corn-on-corn environments, improving hybrid disease resistance and drydown.

      Biotechnology adds special beneficial genes to the corn plant. It will provide the largest part of our yield increase. Monsanto is currently working on a number of traits that will be beneficial to farmers down the line such as drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency.

      An improvement in agronomic practices will increase yields by 2030 as well. Some examples of agronomic practices include precision agriculture, a more precise use of every acre – from GPS-guided tractors to GIS to yield mapping – allows growers to maximize use of inputs and land to get the best return on investment. Another example is more strategic planting densities can increase bushels per acre, even with today’s traits and genetics.

  3. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – another part of the doubling yields commitment, which I dont think is touched on in either the original blog or Kathleen’s response, is that while Monsanto’s goal is to see yields doubled by 2030 in the core crops there is a realization that Monsanto will only be part of this and not the whole thing – the hope being that if we do everything we can to increase yields (breeding, biotech, agronomics, funding research etc) while keeping the focus across the industry on this goal then everyone (academics, other ag companies, farmers, etc) will push equally hard towards 2030 and a doubling of yields.

  4. What are the expected water requirements of the future “double yield” crop? Will breeding and genetics allow double yield response with the same transpiration levels of today, or will T increase as well? We do have water short conditions in many irrigated areas where these seeds will be used. If T increases, water use will increase. Thanks.

  5. Ewan Ross Says:

    Wayne – I believe the full Monsanto goal for increased yield is 2x the yield with 1/3 less input per unit – so one might expect absolute water requirement to increase in really high yielding lines – just not at a rate which would be expected if only yield was gone after.

    Breaking the goal down with regards to corn (which I am most familiar with) I believe where Monsanto is wanting to be by 2030 is an average US yield of 300 Bu/Ac – including all geographical locations in which corn is currently grown. It may be (I’d guess probably *is* )that different solutions are required for different areas, affecting the average by altering different aspects of the distribution of yields across a hypothetical bell curve – ideally a gene would shift the entire bell curve to the right, however this is probably not that likely in the short term – WUE genes for instance, in my mind, are far more likely to alter the shape of the curve on the low end of the scale, pushing yields up >10% for areas which suffer yield loss due to transient drought conditions – whereas an effective ‘intrinsic’ yield gene, may operate best under, say, current optimal conditions (areas where 300 Bu/Ac is probably achievable without much intervention by monsanto) while being not so great under drought conditions (because of the extra growth requiring the extra water, which in these regions is not available) – thus pulling the right side of the bell curve further to the right. Another gene, an NUE gene for instance, may operate well in the middle of the pack (or perhaps in coordination with a WUE gene at the low end) where nitrogen starts to be a limiting factor – when nitrogen is so abundant that yields are super high anyway it may have less impact.

    If these initial offerings give yield benefits of 7-12% this is a good step in the right direction, the hope is then that combinations of these genes have additive (at least partially) effects in combination which would lets say in a good double stack give 14-24%, and a good triple stack 21-36% improvements in yield. (the 7-12% increase is a pretty firm estimate of what people should expect to see from yield traits hitting the market based on what is commercially viable, the additive effects are purely hypothetical assuming perfect additive yield benefits – while not impossible this may be slightly optimistic in my view) – this would clearly be a huge step towards achieving the goal of doubled yields – particularly if one assumes that breeders can maintain an approximate 1% increase per year (I think this is about what breeding accomplishes on average… perhaps a breeder or someone more knowledgable in this area could step in and correct this) which in the timeframe we are discussing is an approximate 30% increase over the same timeframe leaving, in my idealized situation, 34% of the yield increase targetted to other improved ag practices (of which there are many in development or in use on more forward thinking farms right now and which ties back to the improved technology on show and thus keeps this post remotely on topic!)

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