Monsanto readies digital farming in PH
The Monsanto Co. sees the Philippines as fertile ground for the adoption of data science in farming as it readies high-tech solutions for the application of so-called big data analytics in agriculture.
Hazel Bograd, Monsanto data science and analytics manager for Asia Pacific, says that in the context of farming, data science helps make sense of complex interactions that happen on the field by bringing together resources such as historical yield data, climate imagery, and information on soil and moisture.
“This in turn provides farmers with critical insights they can use to make important crop management decisions throughout the planting season,” Bograd says.
Previously limited to technology-heavy industries like telecommunications, logistics, and healthcare, the use of insights gleamed from huge chunks of data—thus, Big Data —is now spreading to other enterprise applications including in agriculture.
Bograd says data science also helps Monsanto innovate to produce stronger, healthier crops that are climate-resilient and disease-tolerant.
“As global production is complicated by climate variability and by increasing demand for food due to increasing population, data science is a valuable tool to drive better outcomes in the field,” she says.
Monsanto is among the biggest provider of genetically modified seeds in the Philippines, which is one of the biggest producers of GM corn in the world.
Bograd says the company aims to be the leader in smart farming through big data analytics, investing heavily toward this end.
“Monsanto invested $1 billion in (the acquisition of) The Climate Corp., which manages with leading expertise a wide range of digital tools that provide insights to farmers,” she says.
The company, now a Monsanto division, gives recommendations, such as planting a few days earlier or changing an irrigation schedule. Such practical tips are meant to help farmers—regardless of size or preferred production practice—produce more while increasing the efficient use of resources.
Bograd says Monsanto and Climate Corp. are currently piloting in South Africa a way of using data science by aggregating small farms for economies of scale.
“Of course, this has been done in advanced markets like the United States and Canada, but what we are doing in South Africa is intended to bring ‘digitized agriculture’ into varied markets like the Philippines,” she adds.
Initially, data science in Philippine farms may be more appropriate to large operations, but Bograd sees the potential in using this down the scale—Filipino corn farmers who till smaller but all together numerous plots of land.
The use of big data in agriculture is also helping farmers around the globe gain valuable farm-level insights necessary for precision planting. Field-level insights, such as soil health and climate patterns, are especially important to farmers as they make 40 to 50 critical decisions involving various factors such as how much they can grow and how efficiently they can do it.
Bograd says that, among corn farmers in the Philippines, climatic information and forecasts are major considerations before planting. Decisions inappropriate to climatic conditions result in 75 percent of yearly losses in farm production, she says.
She adds that farmers sourcing seeds from Monsanto are now using advanced field-tracking tools, such as plant sensors and weather satellites, to measure and analyze all the interactions happening on the field—including soil moisture, rainfall, plant health, and temperatures.
After conducting analysis, a field-by-field prescription to the farmers is given, recommending the best hybrid variety to plant, as well as the water and crop protection products to apply to the fields, among others.
“Understanding the unique challenges and conditions of the field allows farmers to maximize every harvest season,” Bograd says. “By harnessing these digital technologies, we are able to put valuable information into the hands of farmers to help them be more productive on each hectare of their land.”
Using such high technology in farming at a large scale, she says, is becoming necessary as interconnected challenges of rising population, increasing food consumption and depleting natural resources—like water and land—are putting pressure on local food production.
The population in Asia alone is expected to grow to 5.9 billion by 2050, while demand for food is expected to rise by 60 percent to 70 percent. Thus, experts are warning that as early as 2025, a hectare of farmland that previously produced food for two people will have to feed five people.
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