ST. LOUIS — Precision is the byword for an emerging technology developed by Monsanto.

FieldScripts, still in the testing stage, is designed to maximize profits for corn and soybean farmers by allowing them to adjust seeding rates across their fields in microenvironments within a field.

John Jansen, Monsanto’s business manager for integrated farming systems, presented an overview of the service during an event attended by customers of its seed company Channel.

“It’s going to help us increase yield and reduce risk by combining seed science with next-generation precision equipment,” he said.

FieldScripts matches detailed field data with targeted planting in order to enhance yields, both by increasing plant populations in high-yield areas and decreasing them in areas with lower yield potential.

More than 160 farmers across the Corn Belt are involved in research this year, many in Illinois. The company expects to retrieve valuable results this fall.

“This helps us understand yield performance with different environments and combine that with a new testing program that enables us to create science-based prescriptions,” Jansen said. “We’ve got some new data analytics capabilities in St. Louis that are literally petabytes of storage that enabled us to turn around a prescription for your fields, working with your Channel seedsman.”

A petabyte is equal to 1 quadrillion. According to Jansen, it is equivalent to an end-to-end stack of standard 2-gigabyte thumb drives stretching to the moon and back.

“This is really big data,” he said. “We’re collecting a yield data point once per second as you drive your combine across the field. In these 30-foot zones we end up with four or five data points per zone.

“Why haven’t we done this before? Because we’ve never had the computing technology to enable us to work with this really big data and analyze it in a way that made any sense.”

FieldScripts incorporates not only historic yield data and soil types, but also slope and curvature of fields in addition to water-holding capacity.

“We all know that we have different levels of yield performance in different parts of the field,” Jansen said. “More than 90 percent of all cornfields are planted at one static population. We tend to have a little yield drop-off in our lower-yield environments. That results in us leaving some yield on the table.

“This enables us to optimize the population of low-yield environments. We can actually get a few bushels there and save some seed. And in the high-yield environment we can push populations.”

Average seeding rates in Illinois are about 32,000 seeds per acre. However, Jansen pointed out that some portions of fields should be planted at a 40,000-seed rate. Other portions should be planted to lower populations that could not only save seed, but actually yield better.

Fields are divided into zones, with the capacity to change seed populations as much as every 30 feet. That enables precise planting that maximizes yields.

“For a long time, working on variable rate seeding, we had three to five management zones in a field. We would make significant changes in population from one zone to another,” Jansen said. “But we know that in the harvester, different yield environments don’t start and stop on a line. They are gradual transitions.

“Our scientists have modeled the slope and curvature in your fields using digital elevation maps that we collected via satellite and aircraft. We’ve combined that with soil fertility tests, some surface soil date, as well as some historical yield data. That enables us to develop a yield model for your field on 30-foot increments.”

As the technology advances, the program could be expanded to encompass other planting considerations than seeding rates.

“Longer term, we think there is a great opportunity to combine fertility and even plant multiple corn hybrids in a field,” Jansen said. “But that’s going to take a significant retrofit to the planter. We’ve actually built a research prototype for that. It’s going to be two or three years before we can demonstrate that.”