• Farmers urged to use data science

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    AMID increasing threat both from natural and man-made disasters, Filipino farmers should learn how to use data science to protect and help improve the yield potential of their crops, an expert from Monsanto Asia Pacific said.

    Hazel Bograd, Monsanto data science and analytics manager for Asia Pacific, said that being data savvy would help farmers properly manage on-farm problems – including climate change-related threats, pest infestation and input provision for their crops.

    “It is crucial for Filipino farmers to get a firm hold of farm-level data to produce insights that improve how they grow their plants,” Bograd said at a recent roundtable discussion at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel.

    Bograd said thousands of farmers in the region have benefitted from technological improvements in the application of data science and that more Asian farms are becoming better managed and are able to produce yields in spite of the ever-changing weather.

    “Farmers around the globe are being asked to do more to keep up with the growing demands and manage key challenges that prevent food from making it to tables. Among a broad range of solutions, advanced plant breeding techniques, and the application of data science are key elements working together to contribute to a food-secure future,” Bograd said.

    The interconnected challenges of rising population, increasing food consumption, and depleting finite natural resources such as water and land–both of which critical to sustain food production–are putting pressure on local food production, she noted.

    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 to 70 percent.

    “As early as 2025, a one-hectare farmland that previously feeds two people will have to feed five people,” she explained.

    Applying data in farming is increasingly helping farmers make the big decisions to grow more, while also helping Monsanto develop new seed products that improve nutrient uptake, promote growth and yield, and provide insect control and disease protection, said Bograd.

    Monsanto develops genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by taking a beneficial trait, like insect resistance or pesticide tolerance, from one living thing and introducing it into a new plant to help it thrive in its environment.

    In delivering new seed products, Monsanto is learning from plant data through seed chipper tool and molecular breeding. Scientists use the seed chipper tool to genetically screen each seed and identify novel traits. Molecular breeding, meanwhile, creates the inventory of a plant’s genes and what those genes do.

    Bograd shared that scientists from Monsanto now have the capability to analyze tens of millions of seed samples each year to look for the next best breeding trait.

    Application 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 40-50 critical decisions involving various factors such as how much they can grow and how efficiently they can do it.

    Among corn farmers in the Philippines, climatic information and forecasts are especially major considerations before planting, as decisions inappropriate to climatic conditions result in 75 percent of annual losses in farm production.

    Bograd explained that advanced field-tracking tools, such as plant sensors and weather satellites, are now being used to measure and analyze all the interactions happening on the field, including soil moisture, rainfall, plant health, temperatures, etc.

    After conducting a field analysis, a field-by-field prescription to the farmer is given, recommending the best hybrid to plant, and water and crop protection products to apply to their fields, among others.

    “Understanding the unique challenges and conditions of the field allow farmers to maximize every harvest season,” Bograd said.

    “By harnessing these digital technologies, we are able to put valuable information into the hands of our farmers to help them be more productive on each hectare of their land,” she added.

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