Monsanto adds agricultural biologicals to R&D pipeline

Published online: Oct 20, 2013
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Monsanto understands that agriculture is constantly evolving and is influenced by broad societal trends.

Farmers need new tools that allow them to maintain productivity-in the face of climate change, and the challenges of weed and insect resistance to current methods of control-while simultaneously minimizing the impact on the environment. Consumers want healthy and abundant food grown in a responsible way and seek transparency about the way food is produced.

Our people listened to these concerns and in 2012, we expanded our R&D pipeline to include agricultural biologicals, a category of sustainable crop protection solutions made from materials found in nature that can complement or replace agricultural chemical products. Agricultural biologicals (also referred to as biopesticides) are typically topical or seed treatment products.

Agricultural biologicals give growers an additional option for their pest control toolbox and could greatly decrease the use of conventional pesticides when used as a component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. Thanks to their highly targeted mode of action, agricultural biologicals are effective on problem pests, while maintaining beneficial insect populations and leaving birds, fish, bees and other wildlife unharmed. Additionally, agricultural biologicals can be effective in very small quantities, and they decompose quickly in the environment.

We are just beginning to unlock the potential of the BioDirect technology platform in four focus areas: weed management, insect management, virus control and honeybee health.

Biologic Weed and Pest Management

BioDirect Technology is our first biological technology. While still in the early discovery phase, we see it as the next step in the evolution of technologies that will allow farmers to produce more with less. This technology draws on our teams' genomics expertise and uses molecules found in nature that we expect to develop into targeted crop protection solutions.

Resistant weeds, such as Palmer Amaranth (also known as pigweed), deplete crops of vital resources like water, nutrients and sunlight, preventing them from thriving. Early testing indicates that an agricultural biological created with BioDirect Technology can be combined with Glyphosate to control Glyphosate-resistant Palmer Amaranth; enabling farmers to preserve yield in an environmentally sustainable way. This product concept has advanced to Phase 1 in Monsanto's R&D process.

Insect control is another area in which BioDirect Technology shows significant promise. For example, potato plants are often threatened by the Colorado potato beetle, a serious pest that feeds on the plant's leaves. The Colorado potato beetle can completely defoliate potato plants, often killing them prematurely and severely reducing yield. Early testing shows that an insecticide created with BioDirect Technology can be effective against Colorado potato beetles, while leaving beneficial insects, like ladybugs, unaffected. BioDirect insect-control products are still in early phases of discovery. BioDirect Technology may also offer new modes of action to control insects that may become resistant to current farming solutions.

The Future of BioDirect Technology

Also in discovery is a product that could potentially reduce the impact of viruses on plants. Viruses have many negative effects on row crops, and can reduce yield. Our teams are leveraging their expertise in genomics to develop a product with BioDirect Technology that would reduce the negative impact of viruses on plants.

BioDirect Technology holds tremendous potential for developing a new generation of agricultural tools that are precise, effective and environmentally sustainable. While BioDirect Technology is still in early stages of discovery and development, this investment demonstrates that Monsanto is listening to farmers and consumers and is working to address their evolving needs.