Off Patent: Let the Games Begin

“This is our most important project ever,” said Dow AgroSciences CEO Antonio Galindez in a recent interview with Reuters. “It is big.” DAS has submitted a regulatory package seeking government approval for a glyphosate-tolerant soybean that the company says would be the “first-ever, three-gene” herbicide-tolerant soybean. The new soybean will be tolerant of a new DAS herbicide that combines glyphosate, glufosinate and 2,4-D so farmers can spray it on fields without harming the crop. Dow is dubbing the system “Enlist” and pending regulatory approval the soybean trait package is expected to be available by 2015. “We call Enlist our Amazon Kindle,” said Galindez, referring to the electronic book reader released in 2007 that has helped spur a decline in sales of traditional books from bookstores. “It is bringing the next level of technology to the market,” added Galindez. 

Media Moguls

“Ag is becoming more ‘social’ and there’s a wealth of information available through Internet and mobile technologies that have changed the way we get information like weather and commodities,” says Rosalyn Moore, Internet marketing lead at Syngenta. “But that information can also be overwhelming, especially when considering how these technologies can range from strictly personal use to benefitting your business. Our goal is to provide direction for those looking to explore these technologies.” Syngenta has developed the Growing Digital blog to help members of the agricultural community grow their businesses through social media.

Breeders Without Borders

“The idea is similar to ‘Doctors without Borders’—where plant breeders would volunteer to work overseas on specific projects where they could train local plant scientists and share their insights and knowledge with the developing world,” says Anthony Leddin, an Australian plant breeder who is the brainchild behind Plant Breeders Without Borders. “There’s also the potential for undergraduate plant breeding students to take part in these projects—where they can be mentored by a senior plant breeder on-site. To make the projects sustainable, the plant breeders would also train people on the ground so that their work could be carried on after they leave the project to return home.”

The Rise of Nanotechnology

“The key aspect of [nanotechnology] is that when you decrease the size [of a food item’s molecules], they are going to achieve some functions, new properties, new phenomena that cannot be observed on a regular, large scale,” said Qingrong Huang, food scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, in a recent issue of Farm Credit Canada’s AgriSuccess newsletter. Nanotechnology is a growing market—it’s estimated there are already 600 food items on the market taking advantages of the advances made in nanotechnology—and a recent study from technology information specialist Cientifica predicts the nano-food market will surge to $5.8 billion by 2012 (up from just $410 million in 2006). According to the article, the idea is that someday seeds may be modified by nano-particles in the same way organisms are now genetically modified. And instead of farming a commodity, producers could farm a specific ingredient contained in the crop. Growers will still grow corn, but it’ll be primarily for the proteins and oils to be extracted via nanotechnologies rather than for the grain itself.

Expiration Date

“As patents on traits or events expire, our goal is to create a smooth, streamlined transition into a generic seed market without violating property rights or interrupting international trade,” says Mike Gumina, chairman of the American Seed Trade Association for 2011/12. ASTA has been working in partnership with the Biotechnology Industry Organization on this front, as well as on coexistence. “The whole concept of coexistence is not new to the seed industry; it’s allowed us to create high-quality seed for America’s growers for decades. It’s important to have a process in place where all agricultural sectors can be successful in producing their products and benefit from the added value of their efforts. This is a really important topic and one where ASTA is going to be a leader.”

Chemical Cost Perspectives from a Grower

“A few years ago, it used to cost me between $12 and $15 per acre to control these weeds,” said grower Malcolm Haigwood, who spelled out in detail just how expensive fighting glyphosate-resistant weeds has become on a recent tour of crop fields in Arkansas. “Last year, it cost me between $65 and $80 per acre, using more applications and more crop protection products to achieve the same level of control.” He further predicted that with the increased materials, labor and fuel costs associated for these weed control efforts, his cost per acre in 2012 could reach nearly $100.