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Monsanto Outlines Development Pipeline

Drought tolerant corn takes another step toward market reality.

Farmers looking or corn that can stand up to dry weather have a little less time to wait. Monsanto has announced this week that it moved its drought tolerant trait to what it calls Phase 4 - which is the last development step before commercialization.

The trait - a transgenic advancement- is a first-generation product that has been submitted to regulators for review. "This is the first product of its type to be submitted for regulatory review," notes Dusty Post, corn technology lead, Monsanto. According to the company, the new trait offers a 6 to 10% yield increase in drought conditions - or about 7 to 10 more bushels per acre.

When a product reaches Phase 4, Post explains that is then 24 to 36 months from the market - which has Monsanto targeting crop year 2012 for the first commercial availability.

More than drought tolerance

At the same time, the company says its Smart Stax technology - the eight-trait product developed in partnership with Dow AgroSciences - also enters the Phase 4 stage. That trait is part of the company's strategy to improve crop output, and avoid resistance issues. The regulatory package for this product includes a request to reduce the required refuge acres from 20% to 5%.

In December, Monsanto got approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cut the refuge to 5% for YieldGard VT Pro.

The company sees Smart Stax as the base for all future corn products from Monsanto as the Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait is now the base platform in soybeans, notes Steve Padgette, biotechnology product lead, Monsanto.

Better nitrogen use ahead

The company is also moving improved nitrogen utilization corn into the Phase 2 in 2009. That puts the final commercial release sometime in the mid-part of the next decade. "We're seeing a higher yield with a lower nitrogen use rate," Padgette says. In fact, the company shows an 8% boost in yield with only 60 pounds of N on corn versus the usual 200.

Padgette was quick to note that when the product is commercialized chances are the company won't be promoting a two-thirds drop in nitrogen use. However, the nitrogen use rate will be reduced for the new technology.

Cotton and soybeans in the pipeline too

Work continues on new technology for cotton and soybeans too. Already the Roundup Ready 2 Yield platform is approved for import to Europe as that product comes online fully in 2010.

In addition, the company has moved its "intrinsically" higher yielding soybean project to Phase 3 - bringing that closer to market. This technology could bump soybean yields up by 6 to 7% simply by putting more beans in a pod. Developed in partnership with BASF, they offer that higher yield over and above the Roundup Ready 2 Yield increase.

For cotton, plants that contain dicamba and glufosinate tolerance combined with the Roundup Ready Flex trait are moving forward as well. This not only helps combat weed resistance, but should offer yield improvements, Padgette says.

Padgette is optimistic about what's coming down the pike from Monsanto: "Our pipeline is as rich as I can remember in nearly 25 years in the business and there's promise at every stage. Our goal remains to help the farmer get more from each acre of land."

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