While the worldwide demand for food, feed and fuel is booming, farmers around the world face losses due to extreme environmental conditions, such as drought. Given this dilemma, increasing and securing yield is the most important challenge in agriculture and also its primary value driver. BASF Plant Science and Monsanto started to jointly address this challenge 18 months ago as the companies announced a research and development collaboration in biotechnology aimed at delivering higher-yielding seed products to farmers.

"With our unique approaches to gene discovery and with nearly 175 locations of field trials in progress in 2008, BASF and Monsanto are the agriculture industry's frontrunners in developing higher-yielding crops that are more tolerant to environmental stress," said Steve Padgette, Vice President of Biotechnology at Monsanto, during a journalist event in Ghent today.

"Of the total market for plant biotechnology, which we estimate will be $50 billion (USD) in 2025, increasing and securing yield definitely has the most business potential and impact. We will pioneer this segment with our first drought tolerant corn product to be launched after 2012 targeting yield advantages of 6 to 10 percent," said Dr. Hans Kast, President and CEO of BASF Plant Science. The second generation of this product is projected to generate further yield advantages in the same range.

Within the collaboration, which focuses on the four main crops corn, soybeans, cotton and canola, Monsanto and BASF Plant Science have already exchanged hundreds of gene constructs resulting in an enlarged gene pool with less than 10 percent overlap. Both the great volume and diversity of genes provide for a high success rate in finding the right lead genes and the companies' joint development pipeline accelerates the products' path to market.

"As the world faces continued and growing demands for agricultural goods, Monsanto has committed to double crop yields in corn, soybeans and cotton by 2030," said Padgette. "Our biotech collaboration with BASF is expected to enable us to both discover and develop higher-yielding products for farmers, at a faster rate."

According to both companies, the first results of the collaboration have exceeded their expectations. In January, drought tolerant corn, the most advanced project, was lifted into the Development Phase III, where data for the regulatory process is collected.

Apart from drought tolerance, Monsanto and BASF Plant Science focus on developing plants that use nitrogen more efficiently and plants with improved intrinsic yield, meaning a plant's capacity to produce more yield under normal conditions. For the most advanced projects, the companies anticipate the following market values in the U.S. in 2020:

  • Higher yield in corn (broad acre): more than $1 billion
  • Higher yield in soybeans (broad acre): $300-500 million
  • Improved nitrogen utilization in corn: $300-500 million
  • Drought tolerant corn family: $300-500 million

In field trials, all four projects have so far shown significant yield improvements over control groups. This year's South American trial for higher yielding soybeans, for instance, showed a yield advantage of 6 to 10 percent, confirming earlier results. Last year's US trials also showed enormous improvements, including drought tolerant cotton delivering an advantage of up to 19 percent under drought conditions.

SOURCE: Monsanto press release