Monsanto employees and state dignitaries gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Monsanto Huxley Learning Center in Huxley on Aug. 19.

The facility, located just west of Interstate 35 on U.S. Highway 210, is designed to teach Monsanto’s customers about the processes they use to arrive at the products and services they provide to Iowa farmers.

"It’s fitting and appropriate to have this facility in Iowa," said Iowa Deputy Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig. "With advances like we see here at Monsanto, we can literally change the world and feed nine billion people by 2050."

Naig mentioned that it makes perfect sense for this new facility to be located in Iowa as the state is consistently a leader in corn and soybean production. The St.Louis-based Monsanto has learning centers throughout the nation and the Huxley center is the first in Iowa.

"This center is all about educating our farmer-customer on the best agricultural practices," said Dave Tierney, government affairs director for the Upper Midwest at Monsanto.

During Naig’s comments, he also called on Monsanto to educate those who are not directly involved with agriculture on its importance.

"Now that these doors are open, please keep them wide open," said Naig to the group of around 40 gathered. "Please also keep these doors open for non-customers and skeptics of agriculture."

Once inside, visitors will watch videos on Monsanto’s research and testing processes, as well as how agricultural innovation has progressed through the years. Some of the titles of the videos include "Seed Science," "Genetics," "Traits" and "Variable Rate." The main focus of the tour is to highlight Monsanto’s growing use of data to improve individual fields, even varying practices from one 10 x 10 square to the next, for maximum yields.

In addition to the facility, Monsanto’s nearly 320,000 acres of test plots are nearby, which allow guests, such as 4-H clubs and FFA classes from schools around the state, to see in person what they learn in the classroom and at the facility at one of the largest breeding sites in North America. The 18,000 square foot center will employ around 65 people full-time, with 200 total working there during pollination.

Kim Schaaf, site lead for Monsanto at Huxley, said the center has already received requests for FFA and 4-H clubs to tour the center. Monsanto will host around 1,000 farmers and others who will be in central Iowa for this week’s Farm Progress Show.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was impressed with the new center.

"This facility helps us highlight the robust agriculture industry in Iowa," she said.

Reynolds joined the opening tour of the facility and touched on the current administration’s commitment to furthering Iowa’s image as a top destination for agricultural companies. Reynolds is a member of Gov. Branstad’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Board. The STEM board finds ways to get Iowa students involved in these four areas. The initiative has received bi-partisan support, according to Reynolds.

"One of the best things I’ve seen since I’ve been involved with STEM is the collaboration between companies like Monsanto and education," said Reynolds.

Reynolds also used her time to promote Gov. Branstad’s new ‘Connect Every Acre’ initiative, announced during the recent gubernatorial debate with State Senator Jack Hatch. The initiative aims to connect more Iowans to broadband Internet access, a crucial piece of the new farming technology being implemented by companies like Monsanto.

Two area farmers invited to the first public tour were Leonard Larson of Cambridge and his son-in-law, Pete Heintz, of Nevada. Their corn and soybean operation has already been participating in variable rate planting. The two are looking into several options to improve the health of their soil, including planting cover crops this fall.

Heintz and Larson believe one of the biggest impacts of all the technology coming into farming is growers’ ability to monitor their fields without spending the time to be there in person.

"Now we can type in GPS coordinates and I can answer ‘How much rain did that farm 30 miles away get?’ without actually getting in my truck and driving over there," said Larson.

Both growers said they thought the tour did an adequate job explaining current farming practices but added that they were disappointed that the group wasn’t taken to the field to see how what they saw on the videos was applied to the Monsanto fields.

"What we’re seeing now is a little bit on the cusp," said Heintz. "Looking at how it’s beneficial for farmers, this kind of technology has a broad expanse of what can be done."