When many people think of Monsanto, they immediately think ‘Biotech’ and ‘GM’. Whilst we are proud of our global leadership position on GM crops, it will no doubt surprise many that GMOs are not actually Monsanto’s only focus.
Monsanto is a seed company. That’s what we do. The majority of Monsanto’s innovations are in crop and seed improvement, and in advanced conventional breeding techniques.
In fact, of the more than $4 million (USD) invested by Monsanto in R&D worldwide each day, less than half is spent specifically on GM technology.
Speaking to the IFAJ (International Federation of Agricultural Journalists) Congress in Aberdeen today, (5th September), Monsanto’s EMEA Vegetable lead Ibrahim El Menschawi underlined this point and highlighted some of the many examples of non-GM R&D that Monsanto is currently investing in.
In Europe, our vegetable seed division covers 22 different crop types from tomato and broccoli to melon and spinach, and includes over 2000 individual hybrids and varieties. Advanced conventional breeding techniques such as marker-assisted selection are helping our breeders to develop new strains with the traits to meet market demands, with results that are producing direct benefits to both farmers and consumers. For example, in the UK, one of our new oilseed rape hybrids has just recorded the best yield performance for the Southern region in HGCA trials.
As Mr El Menschawi said at the conference today, “the remarkable thing is not just the new yield benchmark, but the fact that this rapeseed is high in healthier oleic acid. The vegetable oil from this hybrid contains about half the saturated fat of olive oil, and unlike sunflowers or olives, farmers can grow it here in northern Europe.”
In addition to advanced conventional breeding techniques, Monsanto also is also investing heavily in new data science and in precision engineering capabilities.
This includes a collaboration with Novozymes of Denmark to develop a new microbials platform. Called the “BioAg Alliance”, the partnership is researching the next generation of products derived from microbes such as bacteria and fungi. These include inoculants, which improve nutrient take-up in plants, and biocontrol products, which help protect crops against pests and diseases. In the US, this year’s microbial research programme included some 170,000 field trial plots in 70 locations throughout the United States, and is expected to more than double in scale next season.
Far from being ‘GM’ focused, innovations in data science, marker-assisted selection and new microbial products demonstrate the breadth of Monsanto’s R&D investments. They also demonstrate the integrated, science-based approach the company is taking to help farmers produce more from their land with less water, energy, waste and worry.