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BASF focuses on new-generation traits

Back when several chemical companies were buying seed companies in the 1990s, BASF sat on the sidelines.

"We made a conscious decision not to enter into the seed industry," says Michael Heinz, president of BASF crop protection division. At the time, he says seed companies traded at high multiples for which BASF would have overpaid. Instead, BASF opted to take steps like forming partnerships with seed companies to develop second- and third-generation traits.

Heinz and other BASF executives gave an update of company activities at a mid-May media summit in Washington, D.C.

One example of BASF's strategy is an agreement it formed with Monsanto to develop corn with drought tolerance and enhanced yield traits. In soybeans, the companies are also working on a transgenic trait for soybean cyst nematode. These traits, which will be marketed in seeds through Monsanto, are slated for the U.S. market sometime next decade.

"Climate change is causing certain distortions," says Heinz. "We are trying to develop some genes to alleviate pain in future, so we can grow certain crops under adverse climatic conditions."

BASF is also working on traits outside of those in the Monsanto agreement. These include improved nutritional components, such as oilseeds containing heart-healthy Omega-3 oils.

BASF also has an active seed treatment division that was fueled by its purchase of Regent seed treatment technology in 2003. The firm plans to launch nine seed treatments in the U.S. market in the next two years.

"Seed treatments in the future will be growing faster than the rest of the agricultural market," says Heinz.

Jonathan Bryant, director of North American business for BASF plant science, discussed the company's NutriDense corn hybrid technology.

Traditionally, end users have treated corn as a commodity and do not measure the nutrient content, says Bryant. That changes with NutriDense. "The corn we have in the marketplace is novel in respect to how people treat corn," he says.

The NutriDense technology aims to accomplish the following goals:

  • Better energy
  • Better amino acids
  • Better mineral content

The end goal is to add 20% to the animal nutrition value of corn.

Having these attributes contained in the seed is more economical than adding them separately to a livestock ration, says Bryant. That's true even with minerals like phosphorus.

"The prices of these ingredients have tracked the rise of commodity prices," says Bryant.

Farmers pay a $22 per bag technology fee for NutriDense corn. The value far overshadows the technology fee, says Bryant. He says swine producers have gleaned a $7 per ton advantage in ration costs feeding NutriDense corn, while dairy producers have garnered milk production rate increases of three pounds per cow per day.

NutriDense also has environmental perks by optimizing the amount of nutrients required by the animal, says Bryant. "It is important to give the animal what they need, no more and no less. If you give it too much of the wrong thing, the animal expends energy to metabolize it and it goes out back. You want to take out of the ration things animals cannot digest."

BASF has formed a NutriDense network consisting of seed and logistics partners, growers, and livestock feeders. Seed partners that deliver NutriDense technology include medium-sized companies like Croplan Genetics and FS Seed.

Back when several chemical companies were buying seed companies in the 1990s, BASF sat on the sidelines.

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