Agricultural Biotech Thrives

When transgenic crops were first introduced in 1996, research was primarily focused on making the plants more resistant to herbicides and pesticides. As recent announcements indicate, the six companies that dominate the transgenic crop market are increasing R&D levels and constructing new labs as they develop further traits such as drought and heat resistance, disease resistance and increased health values in crops such as corn, soybeans and rice.

In 2007, the biotech crop market continued its steady increase: 23 countries planted biotech crops and 29 countries approved their import, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of the Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). The total land area used for the cultivation of biotech crops grew 12% to 282.4 million acres. The biotech crop market is split into two sectors: the crop protection and seed markets. In 2007, biotech crops represented 16% of the global crop protection market, which is valued at $42 billion, and 20% of the commercial seed market, which is valued at $34 billion. The ISAAA projects that the market for biotech crops will be worth $7.5 billion in 2008. The most important event in the biotech crop market will be the approval of biotech rice, which the ISAAA cites as the most significant food crop in the world.

Last year marked the first time that the land for double- and triple-trait crops eclipsed the land for insect-repellant crops, with 53.9 million acres, and 66% product growth, for double- and triple-trait crops, and 50.2 million acres, and 7% product growth, for insect-repellant crops. Soybean continued its reign as the major biotech crop, filling 144 million acres, 51% of global biotech acreage. Corn and cotton occupied 31% and 13% of the global biotech acreage, respectively.

Monsanto is the global leader in transgenic seed production, and also provides herbicides. The crops the company offers are genetically modified (GM) canola, corn, cotton and soybean. It currently has partnerships with Dow and BASF for development of new GM crops. In fiscal 2007 ended August 31, 2007, Monsanto’s sales grew 17.4% to $8.6 billion. Revenues for the Agricultural Productivity division, the company’s crop protection arm, increased 8.5% to $3.6 billion. The Seeds and Genomics divsion, which focuses on transgenic crop traits, grew 24.8% to nearly $5 billion. For 2007, sales in corn seed and traits grew 56.6% to $2.8 billion and accounted for 56% of Seed and Genomics sales. In 2007, the company spent $780 million on R&D, an 9.8% increase, with more than 85% of R&D dedicated to seeds, genomics and biotech. In 2008, the company plans to spend more than $700 million on R&D for biotech and seed research. Monsanto has also expanded its US operations.. In November 2007 the company completed the 22,000 square-foot expansion to its Ankeny facility in Iowa that included the addition of robotic genetic analysis instruments.

Bayer CropScience’s biotech efforts include both crop protection and seed production. In 2007, the company’s revenues rose 2.2% to €5.8 billion ($8.0 billion) and R&D spending increased 8.1% to €664 million ($909 million). The company recently announced that it will spend a total of €3.4 billion ($4.8 billion) on R&D for the development of crop protection products and seed and plant biotechnology from 2008 to 2012. Of the initial €3.4 billion ($4.9 billion), €2.7 billion ($3.86 billion) will be used for R&D of crop protection ingredients, and €750 million ($1.7 billion) will be invested in R&D for seed and plant transgenic products. The company has also stated that during that four-year period, it will introduce 10 new crop protective active ingredients that it expects to have sales of €1 billion ($1.4 billion). In June, Bayer opened a €5 million ($7.1 million) rice research laboratory in Singapore focused on the use of techniques such as DNA marker analysis to support molecular-assisted breeding in order to stack traits such as disease and pest resistance. The lab is also working on rice phytopathology and rice grain quality.

DuPont’s agricultural biotechnology business, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, has 1,800 researchers and offers both seeds and crop protection products. In August, Paul Schickler, the president of Pioneer, stated that “the company plans to increase R&D investment by 15%–20% . . . and will boost the percentage of revenues it commits to research from about 10% in the past years to 12%.” Corn and soybean yields will be a focus for the company, which will increase yields by 40% within 10 years. In August, Pioneer also announced that it would invest $5 million for the creation of two new research centers in Italy and Hungary for research into seed traits for European corn, sunflower and oilseed rape. Ten new employees will be hired for the new centers. Pioneer also plans to expand various European research plots by 25%, add 36 new employees to its European divisions and invest in new lab and field equipment. For 2008, Pioneer has increased its research investment in Europe by more than 10%. In June, the company opened up a corn research center in Mexico to focus on corn hybrids for the northwest and northeast Mexican markets, and in April, Pioneer announced plans to create a $3.5 million research center in South Dakota for the development of corn hybrids.

Last year, Pioneer Hi-Bred revealed a $100 million reinvestment plan to increase its speed-to-market for new seed products that included the addition of 400 positions, primarily in R&D. As part of the plan, the company opened new research centers in Brazil and India in 2007, respectively. The center in Brazil was created to study winter nursery capabilities for corn and soybean breeding in addition to local product development, drought tolerance and heat stress research. The center in India, which is focused on multiple trait discovery projects, employs over 100 crop geneticists.

Syngenta AG’s primary business is crop protection products, such as herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, however, the company is also the third largest commercial seed provider. The company’s 2007 revenues rose 14.8% to $9.2 billion, including Crop Protection sales of $7.3 billion, a 14.2% increase, and Seed sales of $2.0 billion, a 15.8% increase. In 2007, R&D for the Crop Protection business rose 1.2% to $496 million, while R&D for the Seeds business increased 22.0% to $283 million. The company’s R&D is structured into six technology programs: Crop Protection Research, Crop Protection Development, Crop Genetics Research, Seed Breeding, Product Development, and New Business Development. Nineteen percent of Syngenta’s employees, or approximately 4,000, are involved in R&D. In July, Syngenta announced that £35 million ($63.0 million) will be put towards its Jealott’s Hill location in Berkshire, UK, in order to develop new herbicides and formulations. Syngenta also plans to build a major R&D research center in Beijing, China, and will invest $65 million for the first five years. The center will work on early-stage GM assessment and native traits for crops such as corn and soy in the areas of biomass conversion, disease control, drought resistance and yield improvement. The center hired 100 researchers and staff at a temporary site, and will increase the number to 200 after the center is finished in 2010. In April, Syngenta also completed the CHF 85 million ($76.6 million) expansion of its Stein site in Switzerland. The new facilities include a laboratory building devoted to chemical development and a test facility for seed treatment technologies.

Dow AgroSciences is also investing in the transgenic crop market, providing both crop protection and seeds, and experts believe that it will be able to boost its 2007 sales of $3.8 billion to $4.86 billion by 2009 through an R&D expansion plan. The company recently hired 100 more people for its global R&D division, and by next year will have 200 more research positions filled. In April, the company announced the expansion of its Saskatoon, Canada, R&D site, which will develop traits in late-stage canola.

BASF, which is primarily concerned with crop protection, plans to spend $460 million on transgenic crop R&D in 2008 in order to reach its goal of a 25% agricultural product profit margin. The company believes that the products within its agriculture pipeline are worth more than $1.5 billion. BASF is currently a partner of Monsanto, and together the two are undertaking plant trait and gene discovery research in order to increase yield and drought resistance of crops. The partnership’s first product, drought-resistant corn, will be released in 2012. In October 2007, the company opened its new €3 million ($4.3 million) laboratory in Brazil to conduct crop residue studies for consumer safety.

Global Area of Biotech Crops

2005 222

2006 252

2007 282.4

< | >