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In the pipeline for Monsanto: Research platforms for agronomic gain

In a recent public statement, Monsanto announced the strategic focus it has for agronomic products in the coming years.

“Farmers around the world will be responsible for providing a balanced plate for more than 9 billion people by 2050. To do it, we will need to effectively double the food supply,” said
Robert Fraley, Ph.D., Monsanto’s chief technology officer. Monsanto focuses its future efforts through five research and development platforms: plant breeding, crop protection, microbials, BioDirect and The Climate Corporation. Agronomically speaking, these platforms seek to advance plant breeding, plant biotechnology and crop protection. Highlights from the announcement include:

Gray Leaf Spot disease affects more than half of the farmland growing corn in the United States, and can result in harvest reductions as high as 30 percent. Monsanto’s launch of Corn Gray Leaf Spot resistance will offer farmers more options to manage plant disease. 2014 trials demonstrated a greater than 30-bushel-per-acre advantage in low-to-high disease pressure environments. In the vegetable market, Monsanto is launching a disease-resistant pepper that offers the potential to drastically reduce loss in the field through phytophthora resistance.

Monsanto will bring four next-generation insect-control technologies to market – SmartStax PRO, third-generation above-ground protection corn, second-generation insect-protection soybeans and Bollgard III. Research and development on seed treatment that demonstrates broad-spectrum control of nematode pests in corn, cotton, soybeans and vegetables is ongoing. The company’s 2014 R&D trials demonstrated a yield advantage of 6 bushels per acre in corn and an advantage of 2 bushels per acre in soybeans, when compared to the competitive standard. In weed control, work continues on Bollgard II Xtend-Flex cotton, with the USDA’s recent recommendation for deregulation. These cotton varieties will provide insect protection through the Bollgard II trait with the new XtendFlex traits, which should provide additional flexibility in herbicide applications to better target specific weed pressures.

Water availability is often the single most limiting factor for yield. To that end, Monsanto continues to refine Genuity DroughtGard Hybrids with SmartStax PRO corn, a drought-resistant product designed for broad use. This product, which is a part of the company’s collaboration with BASF Plant Science, will help farmers better manage crops in hot and dry conditions by using water more efficiently.

The BioDirect platform focuses on developing new tools to target plant disease, insect and weed control and improvements to bee health. This year marks the first Phase 2 advancement for the BioDirect platform, with the BioDirect Insect Control Colorado Potato Beetle project.

Information technology advances from The Climate Corporation offer farmers additional precision farming capabilities.

Upgrades to The Climate Corporation’s Nitrogen Advisor tool for corn growers will incorporate a new soil hydration model and soil temperature simulator to offer farmers more effective tracking and management of field nitrogen levels.

The company continues a microbials platform focused on improving soil health and harvest through naturally occurring microorganisms. First full-year results from The BioAg Alliance, a collaboration between Monsanto and Novozymes, show progress. Of the top 10 microbe strains tested in corn and soybeans, average yield increases were 4 bushels and 2 bushels, respectively.



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