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Monsanto Learning Center earns global award for ag conservation

Business honored for producing more with fewer inputs.

Receiving a global award for game-changing initatives in agricultural is pretty exciting for Chandler Mazour and the Monsanto Learning Center.

Especially given the fact that the center opened south of Gothenburg just over two years ago.

Mazour, who manages the center, said the Sustainable Yield Pledge Award was for second place in a 130-nominee category for what the center does in water conservation and nitrogen utilization.

In a nutshell— more yields using fewer inputs.

That helps fulfill what Monsanto pledged to do in 2008 which is to reduce—by one-third—soil, land and water energy resources required to produce a unit of its corn, soybeans and cotton crops between 2000 and 2030.

When it opened, the learning center was dedicated to showcasing efforts to support sustainable agriculture.

At the 234-acre research farm, with more than 80 demonstrations, center employees show how ag producers can use systems-based agriculture to manage drought and improve yields while using fewer inputs.

As an example, Mazour pointed to a 1960 hybrid of corn that yields five bushels of corn for every inch of water.

Monsanto’s most advanced hybrid, with genetics and biotechnology traits, has doubled yields using the same amount of water.

Mazour describes the center as “speeding up sustainable agriculture in the high plains.”

In addition to developing a drought-tolerant hybrid of corn, the center irrigates crops through a linear system as well as utilizing sub-surface irrigation techniques.

The manager noted that awards are not won without having a super group of employees.

“We may disagree about certain things but can candidly talk things through and become better at what we do,” he said, noting there’s diversity of employees in terms of gender and ethnicity. “It takes people being comfortable with themselves to be challenged.”

Mazour accepted the award recently during a ceremony at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, MO.

The winner of the category, he said, was a Monsanto farm in Hawaii where employees switched to drip irrigation to make more effective use of water where freshwater is limited.

Looking back at the past two years, he said the center has traveled a long way down the path but still has a long way to go.

What he’s most proud of since the doors opened on June 16, 2009, is how the employee team has come together and turned a cornfield pocked with center pivots into a global centerpiece for systems-based agriculture.

Three weeks ago, Mazour said a group from India and Africa toured the center to see how to implement the learning center concept in developing countries.

“We’re implementing our vision in the United States into opportunities in countries with smaller stakeholders who are producing food for their families,” he said.

In a week, the center will begin construction on an outdoor shelter on wheels that can detect rain and move to cover crops to create a better outdoor laboratory with uniform water application.

He added that agriculture has become a high-tech business, noting that there’s as much technology in corn seed as there is in iPods and cell phones.

“Fields are also full of technology whether it’s the seed or tractors or combines or spray rigs,” Mazour said. “Farmers are amazing because they have to integrate all of the technology and make so many decisions.”

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