Saturday, December 14, 2019

Conference Report for American Seed Trade Corn Soy Sorghum Conference in Chicago Dec 10-12 2019

Back from our trip to ASTA in Chicago. Overall the conference was Solid!  Here are some of my takeaways and comments from some of the excellent presentations, conversations with others, and walking the trade exhibition:
·         The presentations on Wheat acreage reminded us that acreage is down to 46 million acres, a drop of 25% over the past few years, no end in sight.
o   I noticed in the list of attendees that several long-term folks I know in the wheat business were not there.
·         Rumors of perhaps 100 million acres of corn in 2020, perhaps 82 million acres of Soy... but who knows?
o   Lots of discussion on various breeding programs and the changes and cutbacks of various programs.
o   Consensus was that some powerhouses in breeding will fall behind due to lack of continued effort to stay ahead and that the rise of smaller, more niche / regional companies will become more important
·         The big boys in room are doing lots more investing and acquisitions of new technologies / fields of interest
o   Examples would be:
§  Monsanto buying much of Novozymes a few years back
§  BASF investing in Equinom for pulses
§  Corteva screening outside Biostimulants
o   This is a significant change from the “Not invented here” syndrome typical of the past and opens windows for more niche companies
·         Our Company (RD4AG) focus is small plot research and there were several reaffirmations and trends I noticed:
o   An excellent presentation by Alex Cochran with Corteva on challenges in field trials with Biologicals
o   His Key Points re-enforced what we believe
§  Field variability is the foundation of most evil in small plot work
§  Statistical design and trial layout are key
·         At RD4AG, we spend untold hours working on good layouts, spatial balance, proper block orientation for the suspected variability.  This has paid off big benefits in our programs, and there is more to do as we are always learning.
§  Objective assessments from remote sensing is where things have to go
·         I could not agree more!  We (RD4AG) are spending LOTS of effort here. 
o   In our work, Proximal sensing (a fancy way of saying we are close to the target with our cameras, heat sensors, etc by mounting them on a tractor or other field system) is more important that drones.  But the concept is the same 
·         Hard numbers from Objective Assessments are needed
·         Here is a list of what I see/or we are working on at RD4AG
o   Image analysis for canopy cover, color composition, etc,
o   NDVI, CWSI, NDWI and the whole alphabet soup of various spectral evaluations
o   Instrumental determined heights and biomass from LIDAR, Sonar, or multiple image analysis
o   High speed Canopy temperatures accurate to less than one tenth of a percent error form IR Radiometers, etc for moisture stress
o   The list goes on and on
·         Dr. Cochran showed some compelling data showing that trained visual observers are not nearly as accurate as remote sensing, which is no surprise.
o   But we still have to ground truth and get in the field to assure things make sense.(Pun intended)
o   Many new advances in Research Equipment to be seen
§  Smart Planters are on the way
·         Variable spacing,
·         Variable in furrow applications
·         Actual seed treating as it falls through the planter
§  Combines are getting more technical in the efficiency and data they will collect
§  Software will be able to handle the Geo tagged Objective assessments noted above and assist in the analysis of plots much more efficiently than current methods
§  Drone software and capabilities are racing ahead
o   When it comes to Research, we have to stay on track to be able to provide the best tool for the task--there are many tools, but not every task is for every tool, nor is every tool for all tasks!
These are exciting times!  What we do now, and how we do it in field research is MUCH different than 10 years ago, and I cannot really imagine what we will be doing 10 years from now!

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