* BASF sees R&D spending holding steady
* Open to more partnerships with seed/technology providers
* Satisfied with drought-tolerant corn progress
By Carey Gillam
Jan 27 German chemical company BASF BASF.DE is honing in on the Americas in the profitable biotech crop arena and giving up on the European market, where it has been frustrated by opposition to crops with genetically modified organisms, a top executive said on Friday.
BASF, one of the world's largest chemical companies, said last week it was transferring the headquarters of BASF Plant Science from Limburgerhof in Germany, to Raleigh, North Carolina. Development and commercialization of all products targeted solely at cultivation in the European market will be halted, the company said. [ID:nL6E8CH4HQ]
BASF's move shelves its work on its GMO potato Amflora, which is used for industrial starch production. Even though it had received regulatory approval in 2010, broad public opposition overwhelmed marketing efforts.
With the move to the United States, BASF will maintain its annual investment of roughly 150 million euros ($197 million) in its 14-year-old plant science unit as it aims to broaden its position in more favorable markets, said Stefan Marcinowski, the BASF board member who oversees plant science, in an interview with Reuters.
"BASF is fully committed to plant biotech. This is key technology, a future technology," Marcinowski said.
North and South America, as well as emerging areas of Asia, show the most potential for BASF to forge new alliances, he said.
Marcinowski said the company decided to exit Europe after protests against its work mounted to untenable levels.
"They are not in favor of this technology," he said. "Things did not turn better... they turned worse," he said.
"Now it is really time to say good bye to the European environment. We focus now only on products that have a global market potential," he said. "Europe seems to be not ready for planting GMOS in the forseeable future."
Genetically modified organism (GMO) crops are widely used in countries such as the United States and Brazil but consumers in Europe, including France, the EU's largest grain producer, are among the staunchest biotech sceptics. U.S. biotech firm Monsanto (MON.N) has also backtracked, announcing on Tuesday that does not plan to sell its GMO maize in France. [ID:nL5E8CO3J9]
BASF's strategy is not to own seed and germplasm by itself, but rather to partner with others to develop the products. It currently has an agreement with Monsanto for development of yield improvements and stress reductions for corn, cotton soy, canola and wheat.
Earlier this month, the companies said they were advancing drought-tolerant cotton and higher-yielding corn projects this year.
As well, the companies will start farm trials this year for their drought-tolerant corn. There has been some criticism of the effectiveness of the biotech corn, but Marcinowski said the project was proceeding well.
"We are satisfied with the results we have seen so far," he said.
The company also has forged a long-term collaboration agreement to improve rice productivity through plant biotechnology with Bayer CropScience (BAYE.NS). And BASF is working with a Brazilian research center on a GMO sugarcane that resists drought and has higher yields.
BASF sees strong potential in its newly formed partnership with Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] to develop a new canola oil healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, Marcinowski said.
BASF research and development in crop protection and plant biotechnology represents 37 percent of BASF's overall R&D budget.
($1 = 0.7615 euros)
(Reporting By Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)
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