Addressing the IFAJ Congress in Aberdeen, Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) Region Vegetable Lead Ibrahim El Menschawi said while Monsanto is proud of its global leadership position on GM crops, the focus on biotech is often unrepresentative of the company’s broadly based R&D strategy.
Of more than $4 million a day invested by Monsanto in R&D worldwide, less than half is spent specifically on GM technology.
Mr El Menschawi highlighted Monsanto’s successes in the European seeds market, delivered through advanced conventional plant breeding techniques.
“Our EMEA vegetable seed division is a thriving business covering 22 different crop types from tomato and broccoli to melon and spinach, including over 2000 individual hybrids and varieties. Marker-assisted selection is helping our breeders develop new strains with the traits the market demands.”
“In the UK, one of our new oilseed rape hybrids has just recorded the best yield performance for the Southern region in HGCA trials. The remarkable thing is not just the new yield benchmark, but the fact that this rapeseed is high in healthier oleic acid. The vegetable oil from this hybrid contains about half the saturated fat of olive oil, and unlike sunflowers or olives farmers can grow it here in northern Europe.”
Alongside these core activities in crop and seed improvement, Mr El Menschawi highlighted Monsanto’s recent investments in new data science and precision engineering capabilities. Last year, Monsanto acquired US-based Climate Corporation, a data and informatics platform combining local weather monitoring, soil and agronomic data and high-resolution climate predictions to support farmers’ crop planning and management decisions. Already this year, US farmers are using the free ‘Climate Basic’ tool on more than 50 million acres (about 20 million hectares), with more applications to follow. This major $1bn investment in data science followed Monsanto’s acquisition in 2012 of Precision Planting, an Illinois-based machinery firm developing precision seed planting equipment.
Finally, Mr El Menschawi described Monsanto’s recent collaboration with Novozymes of Denmark to develop a new microbials platform. The BioAg Alliance is researching the next generation of products derived from microbes such as bacteria and fungi. These include inoculants, which improve nutrient take-up in plants, and biocontrol products, which help protect crops against pests and diseases. This year’s microbial research programme included some 170,000 field trial plots in 70 locations throughout the United States, and is expected to more than double in scale next season.
“This is an exciting time to be involved in agriculture, with a rapidly expanding knowledge-base in plant genetics, data science and engineering opening up new opportunities to improve the productivity, resilience and efficiency of our farming systems.” concluded Mr El Menschawi.
“Monsanto is moving quickly to invest in the precision farming, informatics and biological research capabilities which will add value to our existing plant breeding, crop protection and agronomy expertise. But as we have learned, having exciting ideas and tools is not enough by itself. We need to communicate more effectively about what we are doing, including well beyond the farm-gate, and find new language and ways to engage with wider society.”