The southern area of the island of Puerto Rico is the center stage for one of Monsanto’s most ambitious projects in agricultural technology in the world: the establishment of smart greenhouses for sustainable cotton and soy conversion projects. Technological innovation, operations efficiency, and resource optimization define the essence of the first phase of this project, that came at an investment of $4.7 million.
Smart greenhouse agriculture includes the complete automation of some processes like sowing, harvesting, and seed production. Other processes follow a combination of automation and the human touch of our skilled workforce. These are proven to be highly effective in protecting crops against environmental factors, allowing for a virtually error-free production, saving the company potential costly mistakes. This technology shortens the time for growing crops and allows to increase production, however the most significant achievement can be found in the topic of sustainability.
While a typical field operation requires yearly from 40 to 50 acres of land and 3 to 4 weekly crop protection applications for pest control, greenhouse cultivation only needs a fraction of the space of land and reduces pest control aspersions by 80 percent. At the same time, the automated irrigation system utilized by these greenhouses allows for a more efficient use of water by providing just the right amount needed, thus eliminating waste.
For over three decades, Monsanto has maintained a research operation on the Island, working tirelessly on trait integration projects of genetically modified features in corn, soy, and cotton crops. This research was conducted following the traditional forms of sowing, irrigation, pest control, and harvest. Trait & Pipeline Delivery, the company’s local division in charge of the development of future market products, used the data collected as base to implement the smart greenhouses system on the Island. All of the soybean production cultivated in Puerto Rico is headed to South America, including countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, as well as parts of North America. In addition, all cotton products shipped worldwide by Monsanto also come from the Island.
The first phase provided a direct injection of $3.5 million to the Puerto Rican economy. The greenhouse structures were installed by local contractors in 1.4 acres of land dedicated exclusively to the research and development of soy and cotton crops. There the company develops such products as crops resistant to worms, weeds, and the harmful Lygus pest.
A simple tour through the facilities would be more than enough to appreciate how they are redefining standard farming parameters. The vast majority of functions are completely automated, from the pot filling process to irrigation. Each factor is carefully measured and controlled. A computer manages a series of sensors regulating when and how much water the irrigation system will dispense to the different areas. How much fertilizer will be used and when it will be used, is also controlled by this system. While field cultivation would require a well and a less-than-accurate irrigation system, this computerized operation reduces water waste by filling the tanks and watering the plants with the precise amount of resources needed for optimal growth.
Another element controlled by technology is the temperature. In the greenhouses, temperature is closely regulated at all times utilizing meters placed both inside and outside that continuously send climate data to the computerized system. If the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the system prompts the roof panels of the structure to open and the ceiling fans to switch on in order to promote the flow of air and restore adequate room temperature. Likewise, if the system detects the presence of rain, the roof panels will close immediately.
For more resources and information on Monsanto’s climate change efforts and collaborations, visit monsanto.info/climatech15, monsanto.info/cccoll15 and read Monsanto’s 2015 sustainability report, Grow Better Together.