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Picture this: A herbicide with a weed spectrum that rivals glyphosate. Plus, it has residual, something which glyphosate doesn’t have. It also breaks down quickly in the soil, has a low active ingredient use rate, and costs no more than glyphosate.

Is that possible?

“It you put all those aspects together, maybe it is a dream,” says Rudiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management for Bayer CropScience. “Maybe one day, though, it could become a realistic dream.”

This “new glyphosate” is a compound for which Bayer CropScience scientists are searching.

“It may happen tomorrow or 20 years from now,” says Scheitza. “You don’t know what’s out there in terms of science and what’s achievable or not. We do believe there is a need for improvement.”

It’s a tall order, though. Scheitza says there never has before been such an effective and environmentally friendly chemistry like glyphosate. On the other hand, though, weed resistance resulting from heavy glyphosate use continues to develop.

“So, we want to work on alternatives,” says Scheitza. “I can’t be precise if this will happen or not, but for sure, this a target our chemists are working on.”

Focusing on wheat

Bayer CropScience has entered the wheat business with its collaboration with the Australian research institute CSIRO. This collaboration is developing GMO (genetically modified organism) and non-GMO traits and breeding improved wheat varieties.

Initially, the wheat industry resisted genetically modified traits, fearing a consumer backlash. Marketability was a factor in Monsanto abandoning its herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready wheat in 2004.

Recently, though, wheat growers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia have wondered if the industry has missed the boat, Wheat farmers who also grew corn saw yields and efficiency increase using transgenic technology, says Rudiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management for Bayer CropScience.  Meanwhile, wheat yields haven’t matched those gains made by corn. In the past couple years, Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, and Syngenta have all entered wheat technology arrangements.

Bayer is developing transgenic and non-transgenic technology like stress tolerance and nutrient use efficiency traits. It will be a while, though, before you see any wheat products from this effort appear on the market. A trait discovered today likely won’t hit the market for about 10 years.

Scheitza expects resistance from some parties regarding transgenic wheat technology. Since much wheat goes into bread and other foods, it directly contacts more humans than does corn and soybeans.

“A bigger portion of the food is for humans,” says Scheitza. “There will be more resistance, for sure. It may take more years before it gains acceptance.”

Conversely, though, it will take tools including transgenic technology to meet increasing worldwide food demand. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 70% more food will have to be produced in 2050 than today. Transgenic technology is a tool to help meet this level, says Scheitza.

What’s coming down the pike

There’s a flurry of new products coming down the pike from agricultural seed and chemical companies in the next few years. Earlier this month, Bayer CropScience invited journalists worldwide to its corporate headquarters in Monheim, Germany, for a look at what it has coming down the pike later this decade.

Bayer CropScience has stepped up trait development with completion of its purchase of Athenix in 2009. Company officials say this North Carolina firm gives Bayer the platform to develop future herbicide tolerant and insect- and nematode-resistant traits. Traits and other technology you’ll see include:

  • A new glyphosate tolerance trait called GlyTol set to appear in cotton in 2011 in the United States. The glyphosate-tolerant trait uses a different gene and promoter than the Roundup Ready glyphosate-tolerant trait.
  • Pending regulatory approval, Bayer plans to debut a soybean trait in 2015 tolerant to HPPD-inhibitor herbicides now used on corn like BalanceFlexx. This gives another mode of action that will help farmers manage weeds resistant to glyphosate, say Bayer officials. Plans are to offer this the HPPD-inhibitor tolerant trait in a double stack with GlyTol and in a triple stack with GlyTol and the LibertyLink trait in 2015, pending regulatory approval.
  • A nematode-resistant trait that helps soybeans resist soybean cyst nematode in soybeans and nematodes in corn is in development.
  • A new corn rootworm resistant trait. “This is the most progressed one,” says Rudiger Scheitza, head of global portfolio management for Bayer CropScience.  “Our trials with Athenix are outperforming the existing (corn rootworm-resistant) traits that are now in the marketplace.”
  • Penflufen is a seed treatment slated for release later this decade. It’s aimed at curbing rhizoctonia disease in crops including corn and soybeans. Bayer has not announced a brand name for penflufen.
  • Poncho/Votivo in 2011. It’s a combination of Bayer’s existing Poncho insecticide seed treatment with Votivo, a bacterial compound that protects roots from nematodes.

What’s up with LibertyLink

Bayer will continue to increase offerings of LibertyLink soybeans in 2011.

“This gives farmers the alternatives in those areas where glyphosate resistance is showing up,” Scheitza says.

Sharply declining glyphosate prices have challenged competing weed control herbicides and systems like LibertyLink and its herbicide component, Ignite.

“It has impacted our expectations (of sales) for Ignite,” says Scheitza. Rather than trying to match the price cuts, though, Bayer is aiming the technology for those areas with glyphosate-resistant weeds.

“What we can do is to develop the technology for those acres where the farmers need an alternative and are willing to broaden those acres with LibertyLink soybeans,” says Scheitza. “So, we see steady growth year by year.”

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