Monsanto, DuPont, and others are rolling out “prescriptive planting” technology to farmers:
Many tractors and combines already are guided by Global Positioning System satellites that plant ever-straighter rows while farmers, freed from steering, monitor progress on iPads and other tablet computers now common in tractor cabs.
The same machinery collects data on crops and soil. But many farmers have haphazardly managed the information, scattered in piles of paperwork in their offices or stored on thumb drives clattering in pickup-truck ashtrays. The data often were turned over by hand for piecemeal analysis.
Sellers of prescriptive-planting technology want to accelerate, streamline and combine all those data with their highly detailed records on historic weather patterns, topography and crop performance.
Algorithms and human experts crunch all the data and can zap advice directly to farmers and their machines. Supporters say the push could be as important as the development of mechanized tractors in the first half of the 20th century and the rise of genetically modified seeds in the 1990s.
The world’s biggest seed company, Monsanto, estimates that data-driven planting advice to farmers could increase world-wide crop production by about $20 billion a year, or about one-third the value of last year’s U.S. corn crop.
The technology could help improve the average corn harvest to more than 200 bushels an acre from the current 160 bushels, companies say. Such a gain would generate an extra $182 an acre in revenue for farmers, based on recent prices. Iowa corn farmers got about $759 an acre last year.
So far, farmers who use prescriptive planting have seen yields climb by a more modest five to 10 bushels an acre, the companies say.