Startup Innovation is Moving AgTech Forward, Says Monsanto's Bob Reiter

Reiter discussed the innovations driving modern agriculture with Kyle Welborn during The Atlantic's Innovation Game.

Monsanto is No. 39 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list


(Originally posted on Monsanto.com)

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kyle Welborn, Managing Director at the Yield Lab Opportunity Fund, during The Atlantic's Innovation Game to discuss the innovations driving modern agriculture.

From self-piloting tractors to using electricity to control weeds to converting cover crops into cash crops through gene-editing, the continued evolution of modern agriculture relies on innovation. Today, more and more ground-breaking products and systems are being introduced by startups.

Kyle emphasized the growth of startups in the agricultural industry stating that in 2016 there were more than 1,300 new ventures, many of which focus on agriculture technology, or agtech. Being based in St. Louis, or as Agfunder News called it "the Silicon Valley of Agtech", I can certainly attest to this boom.

The Yield Lab and Monsanto both understand the importance of investing in and cultivating these agtech startups. The Yield Lab specializes in accelerating these startups through financial investment and mentorship with 22 projects in their current portfolio.

One such investment is in a company called RootWave which uses electricity to kill weeds, offering a new and innovative crop protection solution. Considered a "hand weeder," the device includes a portable generator that powers a wand allowing farmers to directly apply electrical current to the weed. Once a weed is touched, electricity travels down the stalk to the roots killing the entire plant.

With the support of the Yield Lab, RootWave is exploring the possibilities of creating an automated system that uses machine learning to determine which plants are weeds and where to apply the treatment.

At Monsanto, we have Monsanto Growth Ventures (MGV) which operates in much the same way. MGV is the focused investment arm of Monsanto investing in developing technology to help farmers be more successful and grow more efficiently. MGV's portfolio currently includes 14 technology providers and the group continues to evaluate new technologies for inclusion each year.

One such company is VitalFields, an Estonia-based farm management software company currently operating in seven European countries. VitalFields is a suite of cloud-based tools and accompanying mobile apps to help farmers plan, manage, and analyze their field activities. Using VitalFields, farmers can create plant disease and growth phase models, track climate patterns, as well as generate simplified tracking and reports to ensure compliance with European Union environmental standards.

MGV saw promise in the developing company and was an early investor in VitalFields. Now, VitalFields has been acquired by the Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, to expand our European footprint and complement our Climate Fieldview Platform offerings.

Research yields a lot of data that we need to make sense of and, more increasingly, farmers are using that data combined with technology to make their decisions acre by acre. By uniting our collection of data with innovative agtech, we're helping farmers make these decisions in a more holistic and interconnected way as well as increasing efficiency and reducing the amount of natural resources–water, land, and energy–necessary per unit of production to meet the world's growing food, fuel, and fiber needs.

Watch the recording of the Atlantic Innovation Game for my discussion with Kyle as well as all the great talks about the innovations shaping the world.

Bob Reiter is the Global Vice President of Research & Development Integration Strategy at Monsanto

Monsanto Company Awards $500,000 Grant to T-REX to Support New Resource Center for Geospatial Innovation

Currently more than 200 small companies and start-ups are housed at T-REX, which is also located about two miles away from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency construction site.

REUTERS

Originally Published by Monsanto.

In its continued support of geospatial innovation, Monsanto Company has awarded a $500,000 grant to T-REX, a St. Louis based non-profit business and technology incubator to support the creation of a new Geospatial Resource and Innovation Center.

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Monsanto and 2Blades Foundation Collaborate to Combat Devastating Soybean Disease


"Collaboration with industry is vital to ensure that new discoveries made in the lab can lead to innovations that will prevent crop losses caused by plant disease," said Dr. Peter van Esse, leader of the 2Blades Research Group at TSL.

REUTERS

Originally Published by Monsanto.

Monsanto Company and charitable organization 2Blades Foundation (2Blades) have formed a new collaboration to discover novel sources of genetic resistance to Asian soybean rust (ASR). 2Blades will deliver resistance genes in further collaboration with The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL, Norwich, UK), the leading global institute for research on plant-pathogen interactions, and the Universidade Federal de Viçosa (UFV), a leading university in agricultural sciences in Brazil.

Asian soybean rust, a disease caused by the fungus Phakopsora pachyrhizi, results in yellowing and browning of soybean leaves and can lead to premature senesence and significant yield loss. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), P. pachyrhizi has spread rapidly and causes yield losses from 10 to 80% in Argentina, Asia, Brazil, Paraguay, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.1

"Asian soybean rust is an ugly and expensive disease that can devastate farmers' harvests," said Jeremy Williams, Monsanto's biotechnology and ag productivity innovation lead. "Current fungicide treatments can provide some control, but farmers need more tools – and the 2Blades research could help provide a durable solution as part of an integrated pest-management system."

2Blades' mission is to contribute to global food security by developing crops with long-lasting resistance to pathogens in order to reduce losses due to disease. By working with world-leading plant scientists, 2Blades seeks to discover new sources of disease resistance in nature and transfer them into important crops to extend the breadth of their immune system and secure yields.

"Collaboration with industry is vital to ensure that new discoveries made in the lab can lead to innovations that will prevent crop losses caused by plant disease," said Dr. Peter van Esse, leader of the 2Blades Research Group at TSL. "It is therefore exciting to see that our scientific expertise and knowledge on plant-microbe interactions will be combined with Monsanto's capacity to deliver solutions to farmers to tackle a key challenge in soybean cultivation."

"The management of soybean rust requires the integration of different approaches, including disease resistance. This collaboration will allow us to use cutting-edge technologies to speed up the identification of new resistance genes that can be used to deliver more sustainable solutions to soybean farmers, reducing the environmental and economic impact of ASR," said Prof. Sérgio H. Brommonschenkel at UFV.

In January 2017, Monsanto, 2Blades and The Sainsbury Laboratory announced a collaboration focused on tackling corn disease complexes such as stalk and ear rots that have the potential to significantly reduce yield. That research is ongoing and is independent of this new collaboration.

The ASR collaboration complements Monsanto's work to expand the global crop protection toolbox while enabling farmers to produce more with less of an impact on the environment. 2Blades retains rights to deploy new leads arising from the program in crops for smallholder farmers in the least developed countries, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Soybean is a crop of significant and increasing importance in Africa, with extraordinary nutritional, soil, and economic benefits. However, the presence of ASR throughout the African continent is a major factor limiting production.

Monsanto: Mark Edge on WEMA, the Fall Armyworm and farmers in Africa

Mark Edge, Director of Collaborations for Developing Countries at Monsanto, talks about WEMA, the initiative that uses Bt maize to eradicate a harmful pest and help smallholder farmers in Africa.

REUTERS

By Mark Edge

Originally Published by Monsanto.

My work at Monsanto over the years has offered me many new challenges – lately I'm working with a team on the complex issue of helping smallholder farmers in Africa get better seed to help them manage the threats to their maize crops.

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