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06-06-2012 15:29:00

BASF Says Drought-Tolerant Corn's Value to be Determined by Farmers

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By Ian Berry

CHICAGO--The makers of the first corn genetically modified to be tolerant of drought said they are confident it will prove its value to farmers despite an environmental group's charge that it provides only modest yield gains.

The drought-tolerant corn, a collaboration between BASF SE (BAS.XE, BASFY) and Monsanto Co. (MON), is being marketed under the DroughtGard brand and is scheduled for widespread introduction in 2013.

It is being tested by 250 farmers this year, and the results will take precedent over the Union of Concerned Scientists' report that was released Tuesday, said Peter Eckes, president of BASF's plant science division.

"Farmers will trust what they see," Eckes said in an interview.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a frequent critic of genetically modified crops, said the biotech industry has "made little real-world progress" on reducing yield losses from drought.

"Despite many years of research and millions of dollars in development costs, DroughtGard doesn't outperform the non-engineered alternatives," Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the group and author of the report, said in a statement Tuesday.

The group's report suggests that broader efforts to develop genetically modified drought-tolerant traits have slowed and it advocates more public funding for conventional breeding programs. It said DroughtGard, based on limited data, has performed only slightly better than conventionally bred drought-tolerant seeds.

DuPont Co.'s (DD) seed subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred, is already selling a conventionally bred drought-tolerant corn, targeted for parts of the western U.S. Plains, such as Kansas, that are typically drier than the heart of the corn belt further east.

The challenge in creating a genetically modified drought-tolerant seed, the Union of Concerned Scientists said, is that it "requires the interaction of many genes," while genetic engineering can only alter a few genes at a time.

Seed company executives have said drought-tolerant seeds aren't intended to allow farmers to grow corn in the desert, or in the midst of the type of severe drought that plagued the southern U.S. Plains last year.

Eckes said criticism of DroughtGard is based on a "misunderstanding of what the product concept is." The product provides insurance to farmers against yield loss in the event of moderate drought, he said.

BASF, the world's largest chemical company, develops genetically modified crop traits, which it licenses to other companies, such as Monsanto. The German company has a broader collaboration with Monsanto to develop drought-tolerant crops.

Write to Ian Berry at ian.berry@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 06, 2012 09:29 ET (13:29 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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