STEM and Modern Agriculture

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Valerie Bayes

Valerie Bayes joins Lab Out Loud this week to talk about modern agriculture.  As the K-12 STEM Outreach Lead for Monsanto, Valerie is busy engaging educators in modern agriculture where cross-cutting concepts like engineering, math, and biology are used to solve important problems in our world today.  Through Monsanto’s STEM page, Valerie assists educators in finding powerful classroom resources and even helps teachers to obtain GE seeds for use in the classroom.  Valerie joins us to share how she got into science outreach, explain Monsanto’s educational collaborations, and discuss the connections between STEM and modern agriculture (including drones!).


  • – A variety of easy tabletop STEM lesson plans including access to GE seeds.
  • University of Nebraska Plant and Soil Science  – Animation/Videos and Lessons to help explain complex topics like backcrossing and PCR through animations
  • GMO Answers – Here you and/or your students can ask any possible question they can think of and an industry expert, farmer or university professor will answer. Under the “education resources” you will find helpful infographics and posters.
  • FARMLAND Film – United States Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and Discovery Education have collaborated to create a free documentary on modern agriculture and free lesson plans tied to national teaching standards. In this film students will learn just how sophisticated modern agriculture is and how each of the STEM disciplines apply.
  • Armadillo Challenge – Monsanto engineers and scientists share real-world challenges they are trying to solve so that students/teachers or curious audiences may be able to help with. In this example a few Monsanto engineers get on camera to pose a real-world, inquiry based problem that Monsanto is trying to solve: How do you manage the armadillos in Brazil which are wreaking havoc?
  • Biobuilder – Created by an award-winning team at MIT, BioBuilder offers a wide range of open source, free curricula to provide hands-on experiences that foster exploration, innovation, and interest in emerging areas of science.
  • Biofortified Blog– Is a blog authored by a variety of plant science PhDs they cover topics related to plant science, environmental science and agriculture. I have found articles like this on Crop Modification Techniques to be especially helpful.
  • Genetically Engineered Crops: From Idea to Product  by Prado et al, 2014.  This paper authored by Monsanto employees describes the development and testing needed to bring a GMO to market.

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  • Donald E Lewis

    I am concerned about the children in the world. It is predicted that 50% will have Autism by 2025. I have my opinion and will explain my background and reasoning.
    I used 24-D for weed control in 1949 one time. It was a mistake that taught me a lesson to never use it again. At turn around in my corn rows end there was a quarter moon area where nothing would grow. Never used it again anything that potent. I question my Ag Agent about the dangerous herbicide and he said it is safe and not to worry. I found it to be a growth hormone that stimulated the weeds so fast they wilt. I started comparing Organic VS Chemicals in 1950 for three years on my Vermont 32 cow dairy farm. The cows were my best chemist with their four stomachs and they picked the organic every time when their was a choice. I did more experimenting but not enough room here. I wrote a article as a guest writer. Enter the title in Google
    ALADAY LLC Is Monsanto a Monster — This gives the history of my success in going Organic at 22 and now am 88 still active.

  • Val Bayes

    Hello Donald,
    Thank you for listening to the show; I am always impressed by Brian and Dale’s ability to explore, capture and host many different topics and opinions in the fields of STEM.
    I am thrilled to read how successful your business has been after all these years- that’s wonderful. You know more than most then that managing pesky things like weeds can be a real challenge. Whether growing crops organically or conventionally the pesticides used to produce a successful harvest are handled with great care and safety. Like many things, practicing safety and reading the protocol/labels on crop chemistries is critical. Whether it’s a teacher doing an experiment in the classroom, a homeowner managing dandelions in their yard or a farmer applying chemistry to their field, we all practice the same tenets of safety: wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), read the instructions, work in a safe/clean/cleared space, use the appropriate amount/concentration, apply at the appropriate time etc. 2 4-D is safe when these steps are exercised. For those who don’t know, 2 4-D is short for 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid or C8H6Cl2O3; it is a plant growth regulator. It is important to first know that plants innately have growth phytohormones. We are all probably most familiar with cytokinins and auxins. Cytokinins “job” in the plant is to simulate cell division. Auxins “job” in the plant is to promote undifferentiated tissue growth. In a plant, these two plant growth regulators work in concert. Basically, how 2, 4-D works is it mimics auxin. When 2,4-D is applied topically to the plant this elevated concentration of auxin causes the plant to grow excessively and die. It is important to note that dicots are much more sensitive to 2, 4-D than monocots. An example of this would be in a homeowner’s yard. After reading the label and determining the right time and concentration, one can spray 2, 4-D on a dandelion which is a dicot and more sensitive to 2, 4-D whereas the grass around the dandelion is not effected. Grass is a monocot. Another thing to consider regarding crop chemistries is a soap like substance is added to the 2, 4-D mix which helps to breakdown the plants waxy-outter leaf cuticle so the active ingredient (2, 4-D) can enter the plant. As you know, not all chemistries are the same and managing weeds is species specific.
    The great part about agriculture is that it is an interdisciplinary field and uses many backgrounds, expertise and methods to produce crops. One of the things that excites me the most about modern agriculture is that by using the scientific method, evidence and leveraging technology to make more informed decisions we can grow more food, fuel and fiber with – less than ever before. And to me that’s really cool.
    Thanks for your comment- have a wonderful day,