ST. LOUIS, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- As farmers around the world search for innovative new technologies to help them produce more with fewer resources, Monsanto Company announced today that it is a major step closer to delivering the world's first-ever drought-tolerant corn product to farmers.
In the fourth-annual update of its Research and Development (R&D) pipeline, the world's leading agriculture company announced that its first- generation drought-tolerant corn has moved to the fourth -- and final -- phase before an anticipated market launch early next decade. The company also announced that it has submitted the product to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for regulatory clearance.
Drought-tolerant corn is designed to provide farmers yield stability during periods when water supply is scarce by mitigating the effects of drought -- or water stress -- within a corn plant. Field trials for drought-tolerant corn conducted last year in the Western Great Plains have met or exceeded the 6 percent to 10 percent target yield enhancement -- about 7 to 10 bushels per acre -- over the average yield of 70-130 bushels per acre in some of the key drought-prone areas in the United States.
Steve Padgette, biotechnology lead for Monsanto, noted that this is the fastest a product has advanced from one phase into another. "In the almost 25 years I have been with Monsanto, the advancement of our drought-tolerant corn product into Phase 4 is one of our most significant R&D milestones, making this one of the most exciting times ever for our R&D pipeline," Padgette said. "We are now intensively selecting the best trait-germplasm combinations to deliver excellent drought-stress performance, and value, to our customers upon launch. This product and other yield improvements we are developing will reset the bar for on-farm productivity."
Monsanto's corn product represents the first in a series of drought-tolerant and higher-yielding crop technologies which the company is poised to offer farmers over the next decade. Experts have noted that drought-tolerant crop technologies represent one potential tool for ensuring greater sustainability and production within agriculture. Products under development by Monsanto are designed to enable farmers to produce more on each acre of farmland while minimizing the input of energy and resources such as water.
Drought-tolerant corn technology is just one of the products currently under development as part of Monsanto's R&D and commercialization collaboration in plant biotechnology with German-based BASF. The two companies are jointly contributing $1.5 billion over the life of the collaboration, which is aimed at developing higher-yielding crops and crops more tolerant to adverse environmental conditions such as drought.
"This product is the first result of BASF and Monsanto's plant biotech collaboration. Our joint product pipeline has many high performing drought tolerant genes, which make us confident that we can live up to our commitment of delivering successive generations of ever more drought-tolerant crops," said Hans Kast, President and Chief Executive Officer of BASF Plant Science.
Higher-yielding -- or Intrinsic Yield -- soybean technology, being developed by the companies, which is expected to enable soybean farmers to produce more bushels out of each acre, also moved another step closer to farm fields.
The product, which promises higher yields through the insertion of a key gene, moved into Phase 3 and will now undergo expanded field trials, regulatory studies and trait integration into elite soybean germplasm. Once commercially available, the higher-yielding soybeans will build upon the company's Roundup Ready 2 Yield platform and provide farmers with an additional boost to the incremental yield advantage from that product-line. Intrinsic Yield soybeans are also part of Monsanto's R&D and commercialization collaboration in plant biotechnology with German-based BASF.
Other key crop projects advance, new crop technologies added
Monsanto also updated the status of other corn, cotton and soybean products in its R&D pipeline:
-- SmartStax corn - SmartStax contains multiple different modes of action, for insect-resistance management, is more effective against above- and below-ground insects, and offers the company's most comprehensive weed-control system. The product moved to Phase 4, the final step prior to the product's anticipated 2010 commercial launch. In June 2008, Monsanto submitted a request to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set refuge requirements for SmartStax at 5 percent in the northern Corn Belt and 20 percent in southern states where cotton is planted, which are lower than those for existing technologies. Monsanto noted that the EPA has already granted reduced refuge requirements for the product's second-generation YieldGard corn borer technology, which is a key step in the process for receiving approval for SmartStax refuge reduction.
-- Dicamba- and Glufosinate-tolerant cotton - As the first three-way stack of herbicide-tolerant technologies in the pipeline, dicamba-tolerant cotton moved to Phase 2. It adds two new modes of action -- Dicamba and Glufosinate tolerance -- to the Roundup Ready Flex system, and is expected to provide farmers with the greatest flexibility in weed management and the most effective weed-control system available.
Two projects were added to Monsanto's R&D pipeline this year, including:
-- Second-generation, insect-protected Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans - This second-generation insect-control product is tailored to South American farmers' needs and includes an additional mode of action for potential reduced refuge requirements. This project is currently in Phase 1.
-- Roundup Ready, insect-protected sugarcane - Now in the Proof-of- Concept Phase, this Phase 1 project will leverage Monsanto's recent investment in sugarcane.
Helping farmers increase yield, meet the demands of a growing population
As the world's population grows, so are the demands on agriculture and the need to get more out of each acre. Monsanto is committed to help farmers boost on-farm productivity through established and new advancements in plant breeding and biotechnology.
In June 2008, Monsanto announced an ambitious plan to double yields in its three core crops -- corn, cotton and soybeans -- by 2030 compared to a base year of 2000 -- as part of a three-point pledge called the Sustainable Yield Initiative. The company also committed to conserving more of the world's precious natural resources by reducing by a third, the aggregate amount of key inputs such as water, land and energy, required to produce each unit. Monsanto plans to do this by providing choices for modern agricultural
technology to its stakeholders and has committed to helping resource-poor farm families.
The company's investment in breeding and biotechnology research is key to meeting these commitments. Monsanto invests more than $2.6 million per day on leading agricultural research.
Monsanto will be holding a press conference later today at 1:30 p.m. (Central Time). To register for this conference, please visit https://intercall.webex.com/intercall/j.php?ED=111577832&RG=1&UID=0. In addition, Monsanto has posted a related presentation on its web site in the "Investor Information" section at: http://www.monsanto.com/investors/presentations.asp. To learn more about Monsanto's R&D pipeline and its phases, please visit: http://www.monsanto.com/products/pipeline/.