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What's coming down the pike from BASF

The logo on its banners, pens, and other company promotional materials sums up BASF: The Chemical Company. True to this logo, BASF's agricultural chemical division's niche has remained with agricultural chemicals. So how does an ag chemical company do business these days when more emphasis is placed on seed and traits rather than herbicides? BASF gave a glimpse at what it's up to at an agricultural media summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this week.

BASF sees fungicides as a growth area. In 2005, 40% of sales from BASF's agricultural division worldwide were from fungicides. Herbicides accounted for 37% of sales, with insecticides and other agricultural chemical products accounting for 23% of sales.

One component of BASF's emphasis on fungicides you're seeing is the marketing of Headline fungicide under the "plant health" concept for corn and soybeans. Plant health encompasses yield spikes due to improvements in plant growth efficiency, stress tolerance and disease control, says Markus Heldt, group vice president, North America, BASF.

Andy Lee, director, U.S. crop business operations for BASF, says 4 million acres of corn and soybeans were treated with Headline in the U.S. in 2005, resulting in an additional $50 million in additional profit to growers. BASF is aiming to double the amount of acres of corn and soybeans treated with Headline to 8 million acres in 2006, which Lee anticipates will result in an additional $100 million in additional profit to growers.

BASF is also planning to introduce a new class of fungicides it calls 600F in either 2009 or 2010. "This is strongly complementary to existing chemistry," says Mike Heinz, president of agricultural products for BASF. "This new mode of action will provide customers with a new resistance management tool."

In the near term, BASF obtained quarantined exemption Section 18 federal approval in South Dakota for metconazole fungicide. It will be sold under the name Caramba and will also be offered in a co-pack with Headline fungicide. BASF officials say the South Dakota Section 18 approval paves the way for expedited approval for other state agencies to submit final request for approval to the Environmental Protection Agency. Additional label extensions for metconazole are planned.

Metconazole is new to the U.S., but this triazole has been used elsewhere in the world. The broad-spectrum fungicide has both curative and preventive activity, able to stop existing infections and protect against new ones.

Thirty years ago, corn and soybean herbicides were agricultural technology's golden boy. In recent years, their star has diminished as farmers rapidly adopted glyphosate-resistant seed systems.

However, corn and soybean herbicides may be staging a comeback. "We do believe in a renaissance for herbicides as glyphosate (weed) resistance surfaces," says Heinz.

Heldt expects weed resistance to glyphosate to increase, particularly as more glyphosate-resistant corn is grown to accompany the 90%-plus soybean acres that are planted under glyphosate-resistant systems in the United States.

"With a further increase in Roundup Ready acres, we are confident this shift of weed problems will dramatically increase in the future," Heldt says. "This clearly gives opportunity in the glyphosate world and future herbicide technology."

BASF plans to introduce a new active ingredient herbicide in 2010 that would complement glyphosate-resistant corn and soybean systems by filling weed gaps left by glyphosate. This active ingredient would be a highly potent burndown product that also offers residual control, says Heldt.

BASF is ramping up its involvement in the seed traits business. However, they aren't the traits like corn hybrids resistant to corn rootworm or European corn borer. Instead, they are termed second- and third-generation traits like tolerance to drought or nutritionally enhanced corn.

Instead of buying seed companies as some of its competitors did several years ago, BASF instead opted to build a technology platform in the late 1990s to develop these second and third generations traits. BASF plans to outlicense these traits to seed companies in the future, says Heinz.

BASF is stepping up its activity in the seed treatment business. It plans to build upon its portfolio that currently offers products like Regent TS in corn. Heldt notes in 2005, the U.S. seed treatment market was a $462 million business. By 2014, he expects its value to increase to $719 million.

"Corn is the main driver, but there are additional opportunities in soybeans and cotton," says Heldt. The reason? With higher-valued seed, farmers are looking for ways to protect their investment from early-season pests, he adds.

The logo on its banners, pens, and other company promotional materials sums up BASF: The Chemical Company. True to this logo, BASF's agricultural chemical division's niche has remained with agricultural chemicals. So how does an ag chemical company do business these days when more emphasis is placed on seed and traits rather than herbicides? BASF gave a glimpse at what it's up to at an agricultural media summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this week.

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