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A glimpse at Monsanto's future crops technology

"What the heck do they have in there?" I asked myself as I eyed a walled enclosure laced with three strands of barbed wire to the west of the Monsanto tent at the Farm Progress Show.

Fortunately, it was worth the stop I made when Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto, showed what was behind those walls. He hosted a walking tour that featured 25 plots highlighting the technology Monsanto will offer to farmers in the next few years.

"This is just the beginning of what will be a remarkable time for agriculture," says Fraley.

Highlights of the tour included:

  • Mavera high-value corn with lysine. This product combines a triple stack of resistance to corn rootworm, European corn borer, and Roundup with a high lysine trait.

    Benefits include reduced feed costs and total energy in animal feed and a built-in lysine supplement. Renessen, a joint venture between Cargill and Monsanto, developed it.

    A limited launch without the lysine trait will be on 30,000 acres in Iowa and Illinois in 2007. In 2008, the triple stack with the lysine trait will be launched in Illinois and Iowa.

YieldGard VT. This is an update of Monsanto’s YieldGard technology that controls European corn borer and corn rootworm through resistant corn hybrids.

The VT component stands for VecTran technology, which combines multiple genes in a single gene insertion site. This results in a cleaner and more natural transformation process, says John Goette, a Monsanto corn technology team member. The VecTran technology also improves the system’s promoter, which is the genetic switch that keys the gene insertion, says Goette.

"It also increases insect control and gives higher yield potential," adds Goette. He adds it will enable products to be brought to market sooner. One version of this product is YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2. This version uses VecTran technology in a double stack of second generation YieldGard Rootworm with Roundup Ready technology. YieldGard VT Triple Pro builds upon the second-generation YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 stack with a YieldGard Corn Borer. It also offers a dual mode of action that will enhance durability and insect resistance management, say Monsanto officials.

Both products are targeted for a limited introduction in 2007.

Drought tolerant corn. Drought-tolerant corn doesn't mean Death Valley will become the new Corn Belt. However, yields will be significantly higher under drought than those of today’s hybrids. Monsanto scientists say increased yields of 9% to 14% with the company's best-performing event compared to conventional ones under drought stress have occurred across three seasons.

  • Vistive low-linolenic soybeans. These soybeans tap a market for healthier foods. Low-linolenic soybeans can reduce or eliminate transfatty acids in foods by replacing hydrogenated oils. Transfatty acids have been linked to obesity and heart disease.

    Monsanto in increasing Vistive soybean production with growers as demand grows. "There were 100,000 acres planted in 2005, 500,000 in 2006, and there will be between 1 to 2 million acres planted in 2007," says Fraley.

Omega-3 soybeans. Monsanto is incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into soybeans. The darling of dieticians, omega-3 fatty acids are a heart-healthy food component typically associated with fish oil. Fraley says 25-30% of the oil contained in Monsanto’s omega-3 soybeans are functioning omega-3 fatty acids.

"The food industry is excited," Fraley says. "It hasn't had a chance to incorporate omega-3 in food like this before." He adds the oil extracted from the omega-3 soybeans doesn't have a fishy taste and works well in salad dressings.

"The reason food producers like it is because it's stable," he says. "Because it's a vegetable oil, it doesn't break down. And they yield 60 to 70 bushels an acre under Iowa conditions."

Monsanto officials say omega-3 soybeans are four to six years away from a full commercial launch.

Mavera high value soybeans. These protein-packed varieties aim at yielding 5% more protein compared to conventional varieties when processed into soybean meal. This is another product developed by Monsanto's Renessen joint venture with Cargill. These soybeans also have an oil content and grain yield equivalent to comparable commodity soybeans.

Monsanto officials say these soybeans provide a new market opportunity for U.S. farmers to supply Chinese poultry and swine markets. These soybeans are four to six years away from a full commercial launch.

Dicamba tolerant soybeans. The tour had a graphic comparison of the end result of dicamba tolerant soybeans. Soybeans with no dicamba tolerance were shredded by a dicamba application. Meanwhile, dicamba-tolerant soybeans were vibrant and healthy. Dicamba, a common component of weed control in corn, will also be able to be used in soybeans when these soybeans are marketed to farmers sometime after the turn of the next decade.

Roundup RReady2Yield soybeans. Slated for a commercial launch in 2009, these soybeans have up to a 5-bushel per acre yield advantage compared to first-generation Roundup Ready soybeans in similar elite germplasm.

"What the heck do they have in there?" I asked myself as I eyed a walled enclosure laced with three strands of barbed wire to the west of the Monsanto tent at the Farm Progress Show.

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