Iowa Public Television


Biotech Battle Intensifies

posted on March 3, 2006

The battle of the biotech giants heated up this week, with Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred moving to strengthen their hold in the multibillion-dollar market for genetically engineered seeds.

Des Moines, Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred was to announce Thursday that it will release its own brand of ``Roundup Ready' pesticide-resistant corn and soybean seeds by 2009. The seeds would allow Pioneer to compete head-to-head with Monsanto in a product line that is a pillar of Monsanto's business.

On Wednesday, St. Louis-based Monsanto said it paid $8.7 million for two regional seed-dealing companies. The acquisition could help Monsanto compete against Pioneer Hi-Bred's national network of about 5,500 sales representatives.

This week's developments are the latest chapter of a David and Goliath competition. Monsanto is the biotech seed leader by far, said Frank Mitsch, an analyst with BB&T Capital Markets. Pioneer Hi-Bred trails as a distant second in the marketplace, even though it is a division of the chemical giant DuPont Co. Pioneer's new biotech seeds are the first to be wholly owned and developed by Delaware-based DuPont, said Bart Baudler, a senior marketing manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred. Their release is part of Pioneer Hi-Bred's broader plan to quit paying Monsanto licensing fees to use genetically engineered traits.

``We're quite excited that this is the beginning of several products ... that will allow us to go head-to-head with Monsanto,' Baudler said.

A handful companies dominate production of genetically engineered crops, which were planted on roughly 123 million acres of U.S. farmland last year. Developing the seeds is a long and expensive process, sometimes taking a decade to move inventions into the marketplace.

Tags: agriculture biotechnology crops genetic engineering news