Pipeline Progress: Eleven Steps Closer

January 7, 2010

Yesterday, we moved a step closer. Actually, 11 steps closer.

Every January, in conjunction with the first quarter financial results, Monsanto gives an update on the research and development status of our breeding and biotech traits. The update provides a look at projects that have advanced and new projects that have been added to the pipeline.  A total of 11 trait products moved forward in this year’s update, a new record for the company and good news for farmers who we believe can benefit from many of these innovations. Of those projects, five were completely new.

Based on conversations  had throughout the day, here are some of the areas that garnered the most attention and questions.

Improved Soybean Oils – Vistive® Gold and SDA omega-3 – How are they different and how will they be used?

I was most pleased by the announcement that Vistive Gold and SDA omega-3 to the final phase of our pipeline.  It looks like others had the same interest.

Newly branded Vistive® Gold soybeans produce a trans fat free, reduced saturated fat soybean oil for use in frying and baking applications. Trans fats are saturated fats produced by passing hydrogen through vegetable oils – or hydrogenation – to improve the shelf-life of the oil. In a study last year, soybean oil produced from Vistive Gold reduced trans fat 43 percent and saturated fat 98 percent in French fries. That’s pretty impressive, and it’s a step in the right direction.

Source: 2009 Merlin Development and Monsanto

SDA omega-3 soybeans are a separate product. The oil from these soybeans contains SDA, an Omega-3 fatty acid that research is showing can support a healthy heart.  The most common source of Omega-3s today is fish oil, which is not appealing to many consumers and is challenging for food companies to incorporate into their products.  Food companies are developing and testing foods containing the new oil as part of their product development efforts for future introduction of products. The oil can be used as an ingredient in a variety of products, including cereal bars, yogurts, beverages, etc. I’ve tasted both a cereal bar and flavored milk with the oil. No fishy taste, no fishy smell.

Insect-protected/Roundup Ready 2 Yield® Soybeans – Why are we launching first in South America?

This is our first product developed specifically for production in Brazil. The Bt gene is the same gene used in our Bollgard cotton product and will control a wide spectrum of Lepidopteran pests. The primary insect targets for Bt in Brazil are velvet bean caterpillar, soybean looper, alfalfa looper and bud borer. Today, farmers use insecticide to control the insects, spraying anywhere from 1-4 times depending on the insect and the growing region.

Source: Monsanto, St. Helena de Goias, Brazil January 2009

Lepidopteran insect pests are also present in the U.S., particularly the southern soybean growing areas like Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Like South American farmers, insecticide is currently used for control. Why then not also provide this product to U.S. farmers?

The reason is that the Bt trait is also used prevalently today in corn and cotton production in the south. It’s a fundamental technology for corn and cotton farmers. In order to maintain the durability of the Bt technology for those farmers, we are delaying a U.S. launch until we have dual mode-of-action insect control product for soybeans.

Yield and Stress Traits – Why haven’t they moved in the pipeline?

Perhaps notably missing from today’s announcement regarding advancement were yield and stress traits. Why didn’t drought-tolerance move forward? For one, drought is in Phase 4, the final phase before commercialization. So no more phase changes are expected for drought-tolerant corn before commercial launch.

Add to that, the wet weather wreaked havoc for some farmers in the U.S. this year, and affected our research plots as well. To test performance of a drought-tolerant product, you need drought-like conditions.  Drought conditions in the Western Great Plains were the lowest in a decade this year. That said, the product is making progress. We made 12 global regulatory submissions on drought-tolerance and the product is still moving as expected toward market launch. We expect to extend testing efforts in 2010.

That’s a recap of just a few of the products from today’s announcement. The complete list of products that advanced is below. Which products interest you the most? Take our poll and let us know.

Dicamba and glufosinate tolerance
FOPS Tolerance
Genuity™ SmartStax™ Refuge-in-a-Bag
Roundup® Hybridization System (RHS)
Yieldgard® Corn Borer III

Bt/Roundup Ready 2 Yield® Soybeans.
Vistive® Gold
SDA omega-3 soybeans

Dicamba and glufosinate tolerance

Roundup Ready® 2 Canola

4 Responses to “Pipeline Progress: Eleven Steps Closer”

  1. Jim Says:

    When I worked in Iowa, my company participated heavily in the launch of Vistive soybeans, planting a lot of seed shipped up from South America that spring. Ultimately, we were very dissapointed with the yield, we were promised high yielding soybeans with the premium being an added bonus. What we got were lower-yielding soybeans where the premium struggled to make up the difference versus planting regular varieties. How do you plan to market the Vistive Gold beans to farmers who were already burned by poorly performing Vistive beans?

  2. Ben Says:

    Jim, I’m sorry to hear that the original Vistive product did not yield as you expected. We do know that initially there were some differences between Vistive and commodity bean performance depending on location and variety. In the years since launch, that gap has narrowed dramatically. So much so, that today, soybeans with the Vistive characteristic are on par with comparable commodity varieties. We’ve learned from that experience and continue to focus on yield enhancements through breeding and biotech advancements. Are you still growing Vistive soybeans today? If so, how are they performing?

    Going forward, we understand that we need to make sure that quality traits like Vistive Gold are competitive with other soybean varieties in respective maturity zones. 2009 was the fifth season of yield trial testing for Vistive Gold, so we will know more as we continue to analyze yield trial plots over the next few years. Vistive Gold will be made available in combination with the Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait to ensure that yield is competitive with commercial commodity soybean varieties. Along those lines, this product may be stacked with other future traits like intrinsic yield to further bolster yield potential.

    We understand that the “proof is in the pudding.” I hope you and your company will give us another shot if we can prove that performance of Vistive Gold will measure up.

    Ben Kampelman
    Monsanto Company

  3. Jim Says:

    I truly hope Monsanto did learn from the initial Vistive experience. I had some very uncomfortable conversations with customers over a two-three year time frame. We pushed hard to get Vistive acres planted, and lost a lot of credibility when yields were 10 bushels less than commodity beans. I sat in meetings where Monsanto reps told us directly that 3521V (for example) would yield as good as or better than commodity beans. It was a lesson in company spin that I have not forgotten.

    I’m now working in northern Illinois, and there are no Vistive processors near me, so I did not have any Vistive acres in 2009 to manage. I don’t expect this situation to change in the future.

  4. Ben Says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Jim. I am going to pass along your comments.

Comments are closed.

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