3 Takeaways From ASTA’s CSS & Seed Expo 2020

In a normal year, trade shows bring about a flurry of preparations and travel. Shipping booth materials, booking hotels and flights, and packing our bags is always a fun change of pace. This year, of course, trade show season looks a little different.

Instead of flying to Chicago for ASTA’s CSS & Seed Expo, the SlantRange team staffed our virtual booth, attended sessions, and talked with fellow attendees from the comfort of our respective homes. 

Our first virtual trade show was an interesting experience, filled with ups and downs. 

The good part of virtual trade shows: Being able to catch valuable sessions like “Dan Basse’s Agricultural Economy Outlook for 2021,” “Corn Research with 2020 Vision,” and “Hybrid Wheat: What is Different This Time?” from the comfort of my couch was much more enjoyable than listening to the same discussion in a conference room. The flexibility that came in being able to catch a replay of the sessions was also a positive, especially for writing articles like these and wanting to go back and double-check facts.  

The bad part of virtual trade shows: It’s tough to replicate the spontaneous interactions and conversations that spring up at the trade shows we’re used to. Discovering fascinating companies and meeting new people on the floor has always been a highlight of trade shows in past years. While meetings were still possible, the very nature of virtual trade shows adds a layer of intentionality that tends to filter out some of the more serendipitous interactions. 

That said, we still saw several insightful sessions, and took away a lot of valuable information. Here are three of our largest takeaways from this year’s ASTA CSS & Seed Expo. 


1. Aerial Phenotyping is No Longer Niche Technology

At least two crop-specific panels mentioned aerial phenotyping as an important part of the plant breeding process for developing stress tolerance in corn and varieties of hybrid wheat. 

Several of the companies featured in the Ag Tech Innovations Showcase (like SlantRange!) also highlighted their capabilities in aerial phenotyping technology. You can see our contribution by watching the video embedded above. 

It’s for good reason that these techniques are becoming more mainstream — aerial phenotyping is a highly accurate, cost-efficient, and time-saving way to gather crucial metrics on your trials. 

Aerial phenotyping gives researchers and plant breeders insight into how specific genomic factors perform under certain conditions. These techniques also make it possible for agronomists and researchers to quantify the results of their trials, making it easier to characterize and evaluate traits to support critical advancement decisions. 

Jessie Alt, Global Wheat Lead at Corteva shared how aerial phenotyping has helped her team in her talk, “The Role of Newer Breeding Techniques and Genomic Knowledge Enabling and Complementing Hybrid Wheat Breeding.” 

When it comes to plant breeding, genetics and genomics are often the first areas that come to mind. While the genetic side of the equation is foundational to plant breeding, phenotyping is needed to create a well-rounded plant variety.

For Corteva, the ability to capture different traits with accurate phenotyping techniques has advanced genomic predictions for hybrid wheat. 

“A lot of times we think about genetics and genomics, and genomic prediction capabilities,” Alt said. “...But without that excellent phenotype, your genetic predictions are just not going to work that well for you.”

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2. Next-Generation Phenotyping Will Drive New Advancements in Plant Breeding

For the past two decades, farm productivity gains have been driven heavily by improvements to input performance. Today, continued improvements are becoming increasingly difficult because of the limited ability to statistically differentiate the performance of developmental inputs under different conditions. 

For plant breeding and seed production, this means phenotyping is commanding a larger role in research trials, which was noted in a few of this year’s sessions.

As Dr. Seth Murray from Texas A&M University mentioned in his talk, “Corn Breeding for Stress Tolerance: Drones and Phenomic Selection,” phenotyping works for choosing the best genotypes. In one example he shared, his team found that they could predict the highest yielding plants by relying on spectral signals from their airborne phenotyping platform.

High-throughput field phenotyping automates routine measurements like plant height, yield estimation, and disease, which are helpful for researchers; however, Murray said the real game-changer will be using spectral signatures to identify new areas of weakness or eliteness in plants. 

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3. Climate Change Continues to Increase Agriculture Demands

While climate change and population growth aren’t exactly breaking news, a look back at the events of 2020 continue to underscore the pressure that input suppliers, producers, and growers are feeling to stay on the offense. 

Weather and climate are always going to make or break the growing season, and this year was no exception. Dan Basse, president of AgResource Company, shared his agricultural outlook for 2021, and noted that world weather patterns are becoming more extreme and less predictable, which are causing more flash droughts and floods — a hallmark of climate change. 

Of course, those events are having a major impact on agriculture. This year, bad weather in the northern hemisphere caused 1,550 billion bushels of corn and soybean production to be cut from the initial predictions, according to Basse. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, a flash drought in the US, derecho winds in Iowa, and the Black Sea drought caused corn and soy exporters to have their smallest stocks since 2012. In South America, weather threatens even larger losses in 2021.

While lower supply and ever-increasing demand push up prices, more volatile weather patterns and increased severe weather will make it tough for farmers to produce enough food to meet the demands of an ever-growing population.

That oft-repeated statistic about feeding 20 billion people by 2050 has become almost cliche in agriculture, but it’s worth paying attention to. 

Not only does a growing population mean a larger demand for food, but it also means growing competition for land. Increasing the number of acres to increase the amount of food produced is becoming a less and less viable option for growers.

For the grower, of course, this means every year it becomes even more essential to produce a larger yield to keep ahead of surging demand and create a cushion against an increasingly volatile climate. 

For seed and chemical companies, this translates into investment in innovation. Whether it’s new hybrids or crop protection products, input suppliers are undergoing research trials to create new products that will lead to higher yields and more resilience in the face of drought, flood, and other natural events.

SlantRange is here to help, by giving researchers and breeders accurate, validated, quantitative data to choose the highest yielding hybrids and varieties for advancement.

For agronomists and growers, we provide the ability to spot signs of trouble sooner, make more profitable input decisions, and make data-driven decisions to increase yields. 

For input suppliers and seed producers, our data provides the insights you need to build confidence in your advancement decisions through more comprehensive and accurate trial statistics.

We look forward to seeing you all in person at ASTA’s CSS & Seed Expo 2021! 

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