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Companies Turning to Big Data, Microbes to Help Increase Crop Yields

Farmers in the United States could soon benefit from two new ways to increase crop yield that were announced this month.

CropClimate is the latest use of big data to benefit agriculture. The web platform uses climate-, soil- and crop-modeling to link the effects of environmental conditions, weather and crop yield history and field management to develop more resilient crop production systems, reports Environmental Leader.

Guillermo Baigorria, a Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute faculty fellow and assistant professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources and Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, hopes the tool will help farmers reduce their risk and increase their yield while using water and other resources more efficiently.

Farmers can use CropClimate to tailor their pre-planting management practices, such as crop land allocation, variety selection, planting dates and insurance selection, according to the upcoming seasonal climate forecast. Some information is available for the entire US, while more data is needed for certain States and crops. It is currently fully functional for corn and soybeans in Nebraska.

Several of the startups recently announced as finalists in Imagine H2O’s Water Data Challenge are working on similar big data tools for water and agricultural management.


Meanwhile, biochemical giants Monsanto and Novozymes have created a microbial inoculant for corn that will be available for use in 2017. The product was developed through the companies’ BioAg Alliance, a long-term research and development partnership.

“The BioAg Alliance is focused on identifying ways that soil microbial solutions can deliver improved harvests from existing land,” said Brad Griffith, VP of Global Microbials for Monsanto. “This work is critically important to farmers as they work to meet demands and preserve their soil system. This breakthrough collaboration is unlocking new insights into soil microbial candidates to benefit farmers and our work with this corn seed inoculant is a great example of the results of our combined research.”

In 2015, the BioAg Alliance tested more than 2000 microbial strains across 500,000 field trial plots in more than 50 locations across the US. Among those tests, the corn inoculant product increased corn yields by an average of 4 bushels per acre.

Microbial inoculants help plants with nutrient uptake and can act as a complement or replacement for agricultural chemicals and fertilizers. This particular product from the BioAg Alliance is based on a fungus found in soil. Researchers reported that they “have found a way to coat the microbes on corn seeds without harming the microbes’ performance or longevity.”

“I believe we will witness a microbial revolution in agriculture,” said Thomas Schäfer, VP of BioAg research at Novozymes. “The world needs to produce more crops from our arable land while using fewer resources. The more we learn about microbes and their symbiotic relationships with plants, the more we realize how key they are to this challenge.”

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