For a site that was constructed to study water utilization in crops in a semi-arid environment, Monsanto’s Gothenburg Water Utilization Learning Center had a bit of a small problem during its inaugural year: too much rain.
In an area that typically receives 23 inches of rain per year, the site received approximately 30 inches between April 15 and September 30, said Gothenburg Site Lead Chan Mazour. Then 30 inches of snow came in October that delayed corn drydown and ultimately harvest.
“We faced the same challenges as growers,” said Mazour. “We were thinking the same things as farmers are: ‘What the heck? The hail, the wind, the rain.’ It makes us more attuned to challenges farmers face.”
Despite those challenges, Mazour said the first year was a success. The site hosted more than 3,400 guests (nearly the entire population of the town of 3,619), including farmers, journalists, water policy makers, FFA students and international groups, since the grand opening on June 16. Mazour and the Gothenburg team created an experience that encourages guests to think about how farmers can increase yields while reducing inputs. And as a bonus, the city of Gothenburg won the Otto Hoiberg Award for top overall community development, in part because of the facility’s opening.
“Gothenburg is a great town,” Mazour said. “It’s progressive and welcoming to guests, and we had a great first year here. For Monsanto and the team in the area, it’s important for us to be a good community partner.”
The Gothenburg tour is “holistic,” as Mazour says. It begins with a presentation outlining the challenges facing the world in growing enough food and how water and water use impacts everyone. Then, tours hit the fields to visit 80 demonstration plots, which are focused on various parts of the farming system (such as tillage, water, crop genetics, biotechnology, weed control). Mazour said the goal is to break the system down into parts, visit the individual parts and then combine those parts into possible farming practices.
“As our guides stood in front of farmer groups talking about crop systems, they’d get a lot of heads nodding,” Mazour said. “Farmers are systems thinkers as they think about the cropping system. That’s the world they make decisions in. The various plots each hold a challenge that the farmer faces.”
One of those problems was this year’s unusual weather. The amount of rain caused planting delays and issues on the Gothenburg farm, but it also did for other farmers in the area. Mazour said the rain was a topic of commiseration.
The Gothenburg team was pleased with the results from the first year, but Mazour said he learned an important lesson from year one: listen more.
“We have a great tour experience, and we received high marks from our guests, particularly our farmer-customers,” he said. “One area that we can improve on is engaging in more dialogue with the guests. We need to listen to the needs of the customer and put ourselves in position to serve our customers as they try to reach the goals they have on their farm.”