Corn has doubled its yield twice in history. The first came from the mechanization of farming. Then the move from 75 to 150 bushels/acre came from a new age in the science of seeds and fertility. Both of these advances were on an average basis, with one improved crop for all conditions. The average solution loses a lost of potential value, and the next doubling to 300 bushels/acre will take a systems approach for micro-specialization.
Steve Jurvetson described a presentation by Monsanto.
Agriculture is set to undergo a series of dramatic changes as IT/Big Data intersects with Robotics, Novel Sensors and Life Science innovations.
Monsanto is the largest seed company and the largest gene sequencer on Earth. They turn over their entire seed product line every three years.
In their molecular breeding program, they sample and sequence each individual corn kernel to detect variation across the cob, with a fleet of ten automated machines, each of which can chip one seed/second to look for 10-100 genetic markers per seed. They test the seeds at 7 million plots at 500 sites in 50 countries. In 2012, they moved from daily data collection to every two hours. It becomes a big data problem. They went from 3 to 8 Petabytes of data in 2012.
This year they will introduce drought-tolerant seeds with a transgene from bacteria. The product has been in development for 12 years with a combination of breeding, biotech and agronomics.
They also have had recent success with spraying naked RNAi (a computer-designed gene silencing technology) on crops to attack beetles and herbicide-resistant weeds. The biologics program is also working on the downstream health of bees.
In March, Monsanto will introduce Field Scripts which takes satellite imagery and soil variation data to drive variable rate planters so planting density and depth will be optimized (e.g., you want plant less densely in poor soil and deeper in times of drought). In their 2012 test, they saw a 5-10 bushel/acre benefit from this optimization algorithm, which would translate to $3-6B of value for the U.S. corn market alone.
UAVs to count stalks and monitor their health plant-by-plant on their research fields.