January 8, 2009

Company Seeking Approval for Drought Resistant Produce

Fields of high rising corn with stalks stretched towards the sunlight could still be possible with little to no rain, according to a company who filed for U.S. regulatory approval for what could be the world's first drought-tolerant corn.

Monsanto Co. said Wednesday agricultural companies worldwide are racing to roll out improved produce amid fears of global warming and the needs of a growing population.

Monsanto said it is working with German-based BASF on the project, it submitted its product to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for regulatory clearance.

The two companies are together spending $1.5 billion to a venture aimed at developing higher-yielding crops and crops more tolerant to adverse environmental conditions, like drought, a problem that has been drying up food supplies in recent years.

"It's been everybody's dream to have a drought-tolerant crop," said Iowa State University agronomist Roger Elmore.

Yet, the new research would not solve every food shortage problem.

Iowa, the largest U.S. corn-producing state, does not typically suffer severe drought. Last year, Iowa corn was destroyed with too much rain.

Monsanto said its first-generation drought-tolerant corn was in the final phase of development and should be launched early in the next decade.

"The advancement of our drought-tolerant corn product... is one of our most significant R&D milestones," said Monsanto biotechnology spokesman Steve Padgette.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont, has a drought-tolerant corn in field trials that it plans to bring to market in the 2010-2011 time frame, said spokesman Pat Arthur.

However, this type of corn is not genetically modified so it does not need regulatory approval, he said.

Monsanto is also developing higher-yielding genetically altered soybeans, insect-resistant corn products, and herbicide-tolerant cotton products.


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