By Sara Duncan
Imagine increasing productivity by 1,000 percent without adding hours to the day. In just two production cycles, Monsanto employees in Peru increased the yield of cucumbers by 985 percent at their Homefarm Ica vegetable seed production site. The team also more than doubled the yield of melons, watermelons and tomatoes, tripled the yield of lettuce, and increased the yield of seedless watermelon by almost 700 percent. How did they do it? They looked at their farm and made production changes to make it more efficient.
“When I became Ica’s site manager, I realized–based on my previous De Ruiter Protected Seeds production experience–that Ica was experiencing very low input and medium quality and quantity output,” Nils Koster, Monsanto Peru vegetable production lead, said. Watching the human potential in Ica, it was clear to me that with the right tools and systems in place, this group of people could do miracles and within a reasonable time frame.”
In 2009, the team evaluated the site and decided on an approach to increase productivity by 2010. By increasing reliability and yield, the team planned to drastically reduce the use of scarce inputs like water, energy, fertilizers and pesticides. To do this, they implemented new protocols.
First, they installed a fully automated irrigation system for more precise and accurate systems for fertilizing the crops. The previous system lacked a systematic approach and back-up system. It was also manually operated. Aside from reducing human error by being automated, the new system reduces fertilizer use by 50 percent and water use by 30 percent and protects yield when power fails.
Next, the team installed reverse-osmosis equipment for irrigation.
Previously, the site was forced to use salt water, which can lead to a 20 percent yield reduction in tomatoes. The new system, which is the first one for agricultural use in Peru, desalinizes the water to increase yield.
The team also implemented strict disease management techniques and protocols, added anti-aphid nets for tomato seed production, achieving Good Seed Plant Practices (GSPP) certification standards.
Finally, the team secured full ISO-9001 site certification, a quality management certification which encourages a systematic and documented work approach to guarantee the same mistakes aren’t repeated.
“Bringing everybody on board takes time, but seeing the Ica production team working hand-in-hand to accomplish the planned goal, and finally making it work, was really rewarding. The real reward for Ica, more than the higher yields and more sustainable production systems and processes, is the fact that a group of people gathered around a well-designed objective and made it happen, reaching unimagined results.”
The team views these investments and production management changes as a base for even further yield, reliability and sustainability improvements, and replication at other vegetable seed production sites around the world.