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Monsanto looks to biotechnology for future growth

The future for Monsanto agriculture will be in biotechnology traits for corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and animal science. They'll leave research and development for new chemistries to other companies.

That's the way Doug Rushing, director of technology development for North America, sees the next 10 years unfolding.

Rushing, along with representatives from Syngenta and DuPont accepted the challenge of looking into a “crystal ball” to predict how the crop protection industry will change. The three presented their views during the annual Ag Technology Conference at Texas A&M-Commerce.

Rushing says demographics, water, energy, conservation and obesity will guide the search for new agricultural products in the coming decade.

“We have a full pipeline of products coming,” Rushing says. “We've concentrated on products with input traits such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. We'll begin to look harder at output traits as well, traits such as increased protein grains that benefit consumers.”

Rushing says acceptance of biotechnology — despite some early snags — has been remarkable. “Now, 7 million growers in 18 countries grow biotechnology crops. We never expected the rapid acceptance.”

He says the European Union recently approved Roundup Ready crops, “as well as triple-stacked varieties. We've seen a lot of progress recently. And we've reduced the amount of pesticide used.”

He says in the next five years Monsanto will focus on genetics and “deliver technology in the seed. Advances such as genetic marking allow us to move traits into varieties faster.”

He says bio-fuels will play an increasingly important role in crop production. “Demand for ethanol will double by 2010. We screen all our hybrids for high fermentation standards. That information will be valuable to farmers and ethanol manufacturers.

“We're expanding Roundup Ready technology in corn. We expect 21 million acres of Roundup Ready corn in 2005. And Roundup Ready2 has been approved in Europe.”

He says YieldGard Plus hybrids combine corn borer and corn rootworm control. He says a hybrid with combined YieldGard Plus and Roundup Ready will add a valuable tool to corn farmers' arsenals.

“And Roundup Ready2 will change the way we grow cotton. Flex widens the window of application so we can use Roundup later in the season. But we still want to use other products in cotton. We want multiple modes of control and Flex offers more flexibility.”

He says the new technology will be available for the 2006 season.

“We'll have Flex and Bollgard II available in 2006,” Rushing says.

By 2008 he hopes to have biotech cotton varieties with improved drought tolerance and quality characteristics.

“We're close to a Roundup Ready alfalfa,” Rushing says. “We grow 25 million acres of alfalfa in this country and we hope to have a variety with better weed control options and improved quality ready by next fall.”

He says adding yield enhancement and quality improvements into cotton varieties offers bigger challenges than inserting the Bt gene.

“The Bt was one gene,” he says. “Yield trends consist of multiple genes so it takes longer to develop those varieties.”

He says research goals include developing varieties that yield well under limited moisture. “Our goal is high yield across all acres with improved water utilization,” he says. “We hope to reduce water consumption and improve economics and production efficiency.”

Cold stress tolerance for corn and cotton warrants study. “We want varieties that come out of the ground quickly with better plant vigor. We're excited about this technology.”

He says research into improved nitrogen utilization also shows promise. “Nitrogen use is the number two limiting factor in crop production,” he says. “We want to make the plant extract more nitrogen from the soil profile. We want deeper, more fibrous roots. For now, we're working on corn and soybeans.”

Rushing says the next generation of biotechnology may look beyond the farm gate and to consumers' benefits.

“We want to consider output traits. Improving soybean oil will be a big issue. Soybean oil is the number one oil in the United States, but it is high in transfats. In January 2006, all food products must list the amount of transfats on the label. So, we're developing a soybean with less transfat.”

He says growers could benefit with a $5 per acre premium for growing the lower transfat variety.

Monsanto also is working on soybeans and canola with more Omega 3 fatty acids. “We have promising research and see potential for 30 million to 40 million acres in production.”

A high oil soybean variety may increase processing efficiency. High lysine corn for animal feed will improve livestock production.

Rushing says by 2014 a lot of new traits will be available in traditional crops.

“We're not looking for new insecticides, fungicides or herbicides,” he says. “We're looking for biotech traits in corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat and animals.”

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