Above: The pickings are good for Mega Corporate Vultures like Monsanto.... And Australian farms are proving juicy ripe fruits for these carrion to peck on and rip apart ......
THE world's largest seed company, Monsanto, is planning to roll out a suite of new technology products for Australian farmers to help them make better use of data analytics to improve farming practices and lift production.
Mike Frank, the US-based head of Monsanto's international row crops and global vegetable business, said new data analytics technology that had been launched last year in the US and had substantially improved crop yields would be marketed to Australian farmers in the year ahead.
"We would love to bring this technology to Australia and we believe there is a real thirst and desire for these tools in Australia. (We) will look to Australia as one of the opportunity countries," Mr Frank said in an interview with The Australian during a visit here, his second in the past 12 months.
"We will look for markets and farmers that really want to adopt technology. I have been very impressed in my meetings here about the thirst for this technology in Australia."
In October last year, Monsanto agreed to pay about $US930 million (nearly $1 billion) for US tech company The Climate Corp which provides farmers with weather data and farm modelling to help them boost yields and manage risk.
Climate Corp was founded eight years ago by software engineers and data scientists who previously worked at Google and other Silicon Valley technology companies.
Last week, under Monsanto's ownership, Climate Corp announced the acquisition of the soil analysis business line of Solum, an agriculture technology company.
And in 2012 Monsanto paid $US210m for Precision Planting, which developed an iPad interface that farmers use in their tractors to adjust planting rates.
Both acquisitions have now been combined under a Monsanto business called the Integrated Farming Systems platform.
"We have mapped out the decisions a farmer makes in a year, like seed selection, fertiliser and pest management strategies.
"In each of these, there are multiple variables that need to be put into the equation to really make the best decision: for example, past weather, soil types, future weather predictions, commodity prices today and into the future," Mr Frank said of the platform.
He said it had initially been trialled on US corn.
"We have a product for corn growers that allows them to increase or decrease the plant density when they are seeding. They are now farming on a 3m x 3m basis.
"This has helped US farmers increase their yield by 7-10 per cent. And we believe the technology we are harnessing in corn could be used in other crops in the future," he said.
Monsanto has also launched a program called Climate Basic which helps farmers map their fields and look at historical climate and weather data -- heat and moisture -- and helps them make better economic decisions through the year.
"We are spending a lot of time and energy in the field of precision agriculture -- helping farmers with making better decisions and using all the data that could be available, using data science to help farmers make better decisions throughout the season to increase productivity and improve their environmental stewardship decisions," Mr Frank said.
"It is an emerging field and it is an opportunity around the world, but especially in Australia."
Mr Frank also revealed that the group would make announcements in the coming months on supporting new infrastructure in Australian farming communities.
The need for urgent upgrades to infrastructure in the rural sector has been a topic of fierce debate following the federal government's decision last year to oppose US agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland's $3bn takeover of Graincorp.
The US-based global grains group had committed $200m to upgrading rail and handling infrastructure as part of its offer, which was rejected by Treasurer Joe Hockey.
Mr Frank said Monsanto was keen to look for opportunities to support the communities that it served.
"We have been having conversations about this with our team here. They are looking at how they can support in a larger way the communities we serve. Whether it is big infrastructure or local infrastructure, both are on the table from our perspective right now," he said, declining to be more specific.
"In the next few months you will hear some ideas from us on something more tangible. We are in the working phase of this now. We are probably not going to be working on water reservoirs but we will be looking at infrastructure ideas in the communities."
Monsanto made headlines in Australia in March last year when it dropped an exclusive distribution deal with Nufarm for the supply of its Roundup-branded glyphosate in Australia and New Zealand.
The distribution agreement, which went to Sinochem, was worth $100m in sales to Nufarm, and the news sent its shares plummeting.
But Mr Frank said the two companies still had a good commercial relationship.
"We have had a longstanding relationship with Nufarm and we still work with them in international markets," he said.
"I have spent time with them on this trip. We value them as a partner, we view them as a customer of ours in some parts of our business.
"We respect what they have done in Australia and around the world in the space of crop protection."
As the federal government prepared to unveil a farm assistance package that could be worth as much as $1bn, Mr Frank said that philosophically he was not in favour of government subsidies for agriculture.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce wants the government to offer an extra $280m of cheap loans at highly discounted interest rates to farmers having trouble paying off commercial bank debt, on top of the $420m farm finance loan package made available late last year.
"I think farmers benefit with free trade," said Mr Frank, who has been involved in agriculture all his life.
"Farmers benefit when governments create the opportunity for farmers to benefit from innovation and technology, and when there are well-functioning and science-based regulatory systems. That is the big role for government.
"Often subsidies become divisive and I believe the more open the trade routes are, the more successful we will be as an agri industry."
“...... Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce wants the government to offer an extra $280m of cheap loans at highly discounted interest rates to farmers having trouble paying off commercial bank debt, on top of the $420m farm finance loan package made available late last year.”.