Bayer crop scientist: Missouri farmers finding future in computers and laboratories

Innovations will continue to accelerate the changes in the way farmers plant, Jeremy Williams, senior vice president of plant biotechnology at Bayer Crop Science in St. Louis, told MoBizPulse in an interview. 

Jeremy Williams

Jeremy Williams, senior vice president of biotechnology and agricultural productivity, Bayer Crop Science

For example, recent advances in crop science and machine learning mean that, for instance with corn field tests, the first year of testing is entirely within the lab determining which types of plants to select to cross or breed. 

Missouri agriculture encompasses about 28.3 million acres and employs more than 400,000. The state’s top agricultural commodities are soybeans, corn, cattle, hogs, and turkeys. In all, there are about 100,000 farms in Missouri, with an average of 269 acres. Nearly all are family owned. 

Williams co-hosted a session at the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture on Jan. 11. The session featured Williams and Ed Robb, CEO and President of Kansas City, Missouri-based BioPharmaPotentials sharing insights on the future of plant and animal science and how they will impact Missouri Farmers. 

Williams reinforced a common theme at conference: the importance of access to broadband in rural areas and the technology needed to make advances in the ag industry. 

“Data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and breeding have changed how we go to market, where we plant, how we protect crops and even how many seeds to plant per acre,” Williams said. Other advances will allow crop scientists like Williams to tailor solutions for individual farmers — including nitrogen applications — based on their soil types, projected rainfall and a variety of other factors. 

The biggest challenge facing farmers in Missouri, and everywhere, is being able to farm in a way that’s profitable — to get a return on investment, which has become more difficult with recent changes in commodity markets. Second to that is reducing environmental impact.

Since April, when China imposed a 25 percent tariff on more than 100 U.S. products, including soybeans, the market for U.S. soybeans has tanked. China is the largest foreign buyer of U.S. soybeans, importing more than 27 million tons in 2017. Missouri was number sixth among states in soybean production in 2016, producing more than 270 million bushels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Agriculture sits at the intersection of enormous global challenges that include a growing population, limited natural resources and a changing climate that is already contributing to extreme weather events like record temperatures and low rainfall,” Williams said. “Farmers need innovative solutions – tailored to the specific needs of their farm, their crops and their soil – so they can grow food successfully, safely and sustainably.” 

Among the ag tools being used by Bayer is the technologies of Climate Corp., which Monsanto acquired for nearly $1 billion in 2013, before Monsanto was acquired by Bayer for $66 billion.

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