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New crop technologies raise yields, defying analyst predictions

Denver

HOW much does crazy weather matter anymore to crop production? That's the question grain traders are scratching their heads over after fresh data showed US farmers churned out another bumper harvest despite some of the wildest growing conditions in years.

Under pressure from soggy fields, late planting and bouts of early winter weather, American corn and soy plants proved resilient thanks largely to advances in genetically modified seeds, precision tools and inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. In its critical monthly crop report, the US Department of Agriculture on Friday raised yield estimates for both crops. That defied expectations from analysts who, on average, predicted a drop.

"We struggled this year - we had a lot of issues with too much water," Matt Bennett, an Illinois farmer and commodity analyst at AgMarket.Net, said by phone. Still, his soybean yields came within 15 bushels from his record-setting crop in 2018.

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"I was surprised with what the genetics can do," Mr Bennett said. "You can still raise pretty good corn even with less-than-ideal conditions. That's changed everything."

The big crops are a testament to the major strides that have been made for crop technology in just the past few decades. It boils down to: genetics matter. Now that 92 per cent of US corn acreage is seeded with GMO plants, fields are able to stand up to extreme conditions such as 2019's record rains. That figures compares with 85 per cent in 2009 and 25 per cent in 2000.

Plus, there are things such as automatic sprayers that can detect exactly what plants need, additional herbicides, drone cameras that enable farmers to get a birds-eye view of their land . It all adds up to a new era that's completely transforming what's possible in agriculture. BLOOMBERG