By Sara Duncan
Water limitations are constant constraints to western agricultural production. In 2008, Monsanto pledged to reduce, by one-third, soil, land, water and energy resources required to produce a unit of its corn, soybeans and cotton crops between 2000 and 2030.
Using a combination of advanced breeding, biotechnology and improved farm-management practices, the company is helping farmers make the most efficient use of precious resources that are vital to meeting growing demand for food, fiber and fuel. In 2009, Monsanto opened a learning center in Gothenburg, Nebraska, dedicated to showcasing efforts to support sustainable agriculture.
“The most difficult part of this project was to turn a center pivot into an operational learning center ready for customer visits in 10 months,” Chandler Mazour, Gothenburg Learning Center manager, said. “The buildings had to be built, the farm laid out, wells dug, roads completed, overhead and drip irrigation installed and crops planted.”
With a 324-acre research farm and more than 80 demonstrations, the center displays how farmers can use systems-based agriculture to manage drought and improve yields while using fewer inputs such as water and fertilizer.
In addition to showcasing Monsanto’s drought-tolerant technologies derived from a combination of breeding and biotechnology, the center demonstrates a systems-based approach to help farmers manage drought, the effects of planting population and row spacing under various irrigation regimes, in addition to irrigation management options for limited water. The center is also expanding concepts of conservation by including demonstrations on fertilizer management, tillage and application technology.
The center has the ability to reach out to a diverse group of people to demonstrate how Monsanto’s technologies can help farmers produce more while conserving more. In 2010, nearly 5,000 individuals visited the center —including farmers, dealers, retailers, crop consultants, company executives, non-governmental agencies, politicians, university personnel and journalists.
“Of the 726 farmers who filled out our customer satisfaction survey this year, 100 percent said their visit was a valuable use of their time,” Mazour said. “That indicates to us that we are making a positive impact. We also learned from a local FFA instructor that three of his seniors who visited planned to go to University of Nebraska and pursue business degrees. After their visit, they changed their degrees to ag business. That tells us we are making a positive difference with future leaders in agriculture.”
By forming strong alliances with various academic and state institutions, the center is working to further improve water utilization. The team hopes to build a state-of-the-art rain-out shelter to illustrate Monsanto’s drought traits and to help improve knowledge on water utilization traits.