Deep inside Corteva Agriscience’s Midwest laboratories, the food of the future is taking shape.

The nascent company, to be spun off next year from DowDuPont Inc., is banking its long-term success on new gene-editing technology that will allow it to invent pest-defying crops by custom tailoring DNA. It plans to exploit big data to help farmers calculate the right amount of seeds and crop chemicals to maximize production in every field.

It’s all a huge test for Chief Operating Officer...