Monsanto predicts global biotech seed sales could triple

Monsanto predicts global biotech seed sales could triple

Christopher Leonard / AP

St. Louis: Monsanto Co. predicted it could triple the amount of farming acres planted worldwide with its genetically engineered seeds.

The world’s biggest seed maker has seen its overseas sales hindered over the last decade as countries resist biotech crops, derided as “franken foods" by critics who have blocked their export from the United States.

But Monsanto is paving the way to increase acres (hectares) planted with its biotech seeds from from 95 million (38 million hectares) today to 270 million acres (109 million hectares), said Brett Begemann, Monsanto’s executive vice-president of global commercial business.

“Strong global adoption of our (seeds) coupled with recent approvals paves the way for expanded growth and sets the stage for new growth as we look to stack and upgrade these products in the coming years," Begemann told a group of stock analysts and investors Wednesday at the Credit Suisse Chemicals Conference held in New York.

The overall number of acres (hectares) planted in biotech seeds has increased in recent years, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization trade group. Global biotech crop acreage increased 13% between 2005 and 2006, growing from 222 million acres (90 million hectares) to 252 million acres (102 million hectares), according to the group.

That does not mean grassroots resistance to the crops will stop, said Laurel Hopwood, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s biotechnology committee. Hopwood said she gets e-mails from activists around the globe who want to slow the spread of biotech seeds.

“It’s very clear that people don’t want it," Hopwood said. “I would call Monsanto’s press release industry spin."

Hopwood said the Sierra Club will continue to lobby in Washington for more safety testing of biotech crops along with labeling any foods that contain them. She said the group’s ultimate goal is to win a moratorium on any biotech crops being planted.

In outlining Monsanto’s growth opportunities, Begemann highlighted Monsanto’s corn seed business, which has gained market share in 2007 in Europe, Argentina, India and South Africa. He said Monsanto continues to expect international corn seed sales to grow at a rate of 1 to 2% annually through the end of the decade.

Begemann said Brazil will be a hot spot for sales growth after Monsanto’s purchase of the Agroeste seed company. The acquisition boosts Monsanto’s market share in Brazil to 40%. That will give Monsanto the outlets it needs to introduce new strains of crops like YieldGard Corn Borer, he said.

Monsanto has increasingly invested in “advanced breeding" techniques to develop new crops without genetic engineering. Instead, the company uses gene markers and advanced computers to rapidly breed plants with desirable traits.

The new breeding program could make it easier to introduce crops in countries where resistance to genetic engineering remains strong.