Dow AgroSciences wins OK for Brazil GMO corn seed

CHICAGO Wed Mar 16, 2011 9:02pm GMT

Dow AgroSciences, Vice President of Crops Global Business Unit, Tim Hassinger speaks during the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago March 16, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress

Dow AgroSciences, Vice President of Crops Global Business Unit, Tim Hassinger speaks during the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago March 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Dow AgroSciences has won approval from Brazil regulators for a new corn seed containing five genes that protect plants from insects and weed-killing treatments, an executive told Reuters.

The new genetically modified corn seed, Powercore, is part of a cross-licensing agreement with rival Monsanto Co (MON.N).

Dow, a unit of Dow Chemical (DOW.N), said the seed is designed to help farmers fight above-ground pests that have battered crop production.

"This will be the first five-gene stacked corn product that will be launched in Brazil," Tim Hassinger, Dow AgroSciences' vice president of global seeds, said at the Reuters Global Food and Agriculture Summit. "This is a significant milestone for Dow AgroSciences with our planned growth in the seeds business."

Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical (DOW.N), is hoping to have the corn on the market in time for the 2012 Brazilian planting season. The unit, which has traditionally been strong in pesticides and herbicides, is also working to get Powercore approved in Argentina, Hassinger said.

He declined to provide the size of the product launch or the number of acres it hopes Powercore will be used on, but expects to sell out of the new product in the first year.

While the United States remained the largest user of genetically modified seeds last year, Brazil posted the biggest growth, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which promotes biotech crop adoption.

Critics say the altered plants cause environmental harm in many ways, including through increased use of herbicides, which creates weed resistance, and potential health problems for animals and people. But supporters contend they are safe and help meet food demands for a growing global population.

Dow AgroSciences' new corn seed contains three genes that will combat Brazilian corn insect pests, including fall army worm. Two additional genes offer tolerance against two herbicides, including Monsanto's Roundup.

Dow AgroSciences has a 13 to 15 percent share of Brazil's corn seed market. It is unclear what impact Powercore corn will have on those numbers, Hassinger said.

"We're still working through how quickly we can ramp up production, so we're not at a point to say," he said at the summit, held at the Reuters offices in Chicago.

Dow's share of the United States corn market is roughly 4 to 5 percent. Powercore corn will primarily fight above-ground pests in Brazil, whereas Dow's SmartStax corn in the United States fights above- and below-ground pests using eight genetic traits.

The company also sells cotton and soy seeds, as well as herbicides. Dow is studying the wheat market, but feels business opportunities there are further in the future, Hassinger said.

Dow has long played second fiddle in the seed market to Monsanto, DuPont's (DD.N) Pioneer unit and Syngenta (SYNN.VX). It has various licensing agreements with all three, but also aggressively competes with the trio.

Earlier this month Dow announced a new genetic trait for U.S. corn that will be tolerant to Dow's own 2, 4-D herbicide as well as Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, to which most weeds are increasingly resistant.

"It will potentially compete" with Monsanto's Roundup, Hassinger said. "In most cases it will be used in conjunction with Roundup Ready, though."

As part of its effort to expand its seed business, Dow is assessing opportunities in South Africa, where rivals Monsanto and DuPont already have a strong footprint.

Dow sells its chemicals in South Africa, and is considering launching a corn seed business there, he said.

Dow Chemical shares fell 2.2 percent on Wednesday to close at $35.16 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has traded between $22.43 and $39 in the past 52 weeks.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Carey Gillam; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Jim Marshall and Richard Chang)