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New herbicide site of action, gene-edited short-stature corn, XtendFlex coming from Bayer

Bayer’s three-way herbicide-tolerant stack – XtendFlex – is set to debut this spring.

Bayer Crop Science has a new herbicide site of action molecule in the works for crops including corn and soybeans. It’s also using gene editing in conjunction with conventional breeding and transgenic technology to develop short-stature corn. Meanwhile, it also plans to launch its three-way herbicide stack – XtendFlex – this spring.

Those are just some of the research updates that Bayer Crop Science executives and scientists discussed as part of an update to investors and the agricultural media on February 13. Here are some highlights.

New Herbicide Site of Action Molecule

Bayer said a year ago it had a new herbicide site of action in the works for crops including corn and soybeans

The new molecule offers effective control of several herbicide-resistant grasses, says Axel Trautwein, Bayer head of small molecules for crop science R&D. Among those grasses it has effective activity on are goosegrass and sourgrass. The new molecule also has activity on various broadleaf species, he adds.

It won’t debut anytime soon, though. Bayer is aiming at the chemistry hitting the market in the late 2020s.

Glyphosate has had legal challenges as to its impact on human health.  Meanwhile, dicamba has had challenges with off-target movement.

However, the development of such technology like the new herbicide site of action molecule is aimed at giving farmers more choices to control weeds and to complement these existing herbicides rather than replace them, say Bayer officials.

“There is always urgency for growers to have more choices and options,” says Bob Reiter, who heads research and development for Bayer Crop Science. “The biology of weeds and insects as such are always attempting to survive, and there is always urgency for Bayer to introduce new modes of action.”

Bayer officials added this effort and others are part of a program it announced last summer dedicating over $5 billion to find new weed control tools in the next decade. Bayer is also developing a complementary herbicide-tolerant trait to match the new herbicide site of action.

Short-stature Corn

Bayer last year announced its work on short-stature corn. These hybrids stand 6 to 8 feet tall, compared with the normal 9- to 11-foot height of conventional hybrids.

Bayer officials announced that the firm also is using gene editing to develop short-stature corn, in addition to conventional breeding and transgenic technology. Bayer officials say short-stature corn advantages include:

  • Less of a wind target.  
  • Stronger standing due to compressed internodes.  
  • Greater resistance to greensnap.  

Bayer officials add that overall, annual yield losses in corn due to stalk lodging range from 5% to 25%.    

Other perks include:  

  • Extension of the application window for toolbar sidedressed nitrogen (N) by up to a week.    
  • Easier access to optimized late-season nitrogen and pesticide applications using real-time digital agricultural products.  
  • The potential to plant thicker. Bayer scientists say shorter plants also may permit higher densities of plants that emphasize ear and kernel production rather plant biomass as do taller corn plants.    

Bayer is currently working with Mexican farmers who are now growing short-stature corn derived from conventional breeding. This version is slated to debut in the United States early- to mid-decade.

Herbicide-tolerant Stacks

Bayer is advancing its XtendFlex herbicide-tolerant soybean package to launch this spring. These soybeans tolerate glyphosate, glufosinate, and dicamba formulations that match the herbicide-tolerant soybeans.

Bayer officials say the XtendFlex system increases the control spectrum from 350 to 375 weeds over Xtend soybeans that tolerate dicamba and glyphosate. They add that the system’s dicamba formulation offers 14 days of residual activity for weeds not yet emerged.

“Prices have not been finalized for XtendFlex coming to market, but we will look on a premium price for that type of innovation,” says Liam Condon, Bayer Crop Science president. “We have had outstanding success with XtendFlex in cotton.”

In the works later this decade is a stack that includes tolerance to:

  • Glyphosate
  • Dicamba
  • Glufosinate
  • An HPPD inhibitor herbicide
  • 2,4-D

By 2030, Bayer aims to have a six-way stack including resistance to:

  • Glyphosate
  • Dicamba
  • Glufosinate
  • An HPPD inhibitor herbicide
  • 2,4-D
  • A PPO inhibitor herbicide

Condon says that the current Xtend system – with tolerance to glyphosate and the system’s dicamba formulation – had a successful marketing year in 2019, going on around 50 million acres.

Off-target dicamba, though, continues to be a concern, particularly in states like Indiana. There, dicamba used in dicamba-tolerant systems faces increased label restrictions due to off-target movement concerns. 

Condon counters that off-target dicamba complaints overall were low in 2019.

“If we look at the number of off-target inquiries in 2019 per million acres planted, this is down to about eight, which actually, compared with other crop protection products, is a very, very small amount,” he says. “So, what we are hearing are anecdotal reports in specific geographies, but clearly across the overall market, (we’ve seen) massive (market) penetration and a relatively very low amount of inquiries on off-target movement.”

Digital Agricultural Tools

FieldView, a digital tool offered by Bayer’s digital ag division, The Climate Corporation, now has 95 million paid acres globally, says Sam Eathington, chief science officer for The Climate Corporation. “We are just scratching the surface,” he says.

He says the Seed Advisor tool from FieldView has boosted corn yields 6 to 9 bushels per acre, based on 6 million data points from 7,700 hybrids compiled. A beta launch in soybeans is planned for the middle of the decade.  

Seed Advisor is a critical component of Bayer’s move into outcome-based pricing, which seeks to establish a yield guarantee if a farmer follows a certain protocol.

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