VIDEO: Tapping data for better gains

Farmers could get 15-20 percent more production by using data to better manage crops, says a Monsanto vice-president.

And those gains could come more quickly than many expect, Jesus Madrazo told the Canadian Global Crops Symposium April 12.

By the end of this decade farmers will be adapting their crop management, guided by improved analysis of data.

“Incredible precision is possible,” said Madrazo. “It really helps farmers use only what they need, no more.”

The changes he was referring to come from better management with the use of what is commonly known as “big data,” which is the use of the masses of information that farm machinery, satellites, drones and other technology can throw off about what’s actually in farmers’ fields.

Monsanto has been making an aggressive push into the big data area, purchasing providers of data collection and analysis such as The Climate Corporation.

While this is a much different field than the biotechnology, seed variety development and chemical research and manufacturing than Monsanto has been known for over the decades, Madrazo said it fits with the company’s core interest in innovation and integration of multiple types of technology in farm production. That’s why it thinks farmers will be eager customers for its “integrative solutions” to boost production and profitability.

At the same time, agriculture’s carbon emissions can be reduced and its environmental impact improved, Madrazo said.

Big data relies on farmers providing much of it through the operations of their machinery and other on-farm technology, so farmer co-operation is necessary. Madrazo said he thinks farmers will be willing participants because they will see the gains from more efficient management.

“Massive amounts of data about weather, soil and specific cropland, and computing power to store and analyze it and create insights that help farmers make more accurate decisions real-time on their field, will make farming even more efficient than it is today,” said Madrazo.

In order to get those 15-20 percent yield gains, farmers will need to work with companies like Monsanto, by sharing their on-farm information, and Madrazo thinks farmers will want to.

If they get the gains, farmers won’t mind working with the big companies.

“The data is the farmer’s data,” said Madrazo in an interview. “Transparency and clear rules have no substitute.”

Madrazo said the revolution big data will bring will come much more quickly than chemical developments and biotechnology innovations. Those toke many years to come to market and become widely available.

Data-based management will likely be widely available before the 2020s, he said.

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