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
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
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
“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
“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
“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.”