MONSANTO’S director of scientific affairs Harvey Glick has shrugged off suggestions genetic modification advances have stalled and has predicted a boom period for biotech products as the ‘second generation’ of traits becomes available to growers.
“I think we are just at the beginning of an exciting period, with crops being rolled out with new traits, especially in soybeans and corn,” Dr Glick said.
Canada-based Dr Glick said that it was not just more of the same herbicide resistance traits either.
“We are working on more nitrogen efficient and drought tolerant lines, as well as oilseeds with higher oil levels.”
He dismissed claims that many of the new traits being developed were being done by conventional breeding regardless of genetic modification.
“It’s not fair to say its just being done with conventional traits.”
And work is still being done on perfecting existing traits.
“Take a look at Roundup Ready soybeans,” he said. “Roundup Ready is one of the most widely planted traits, but we are not just taking old varieties and adding a new trait, we are developing a whole new technology, an improved version of glyphosate resistance.
“Yields have been between eight and 11 percent higher.”
However, the Australian farming public’s real interest in new traits comes down to one thing, and Dr Glick, in Australia for the recent Australian Biotech Conference, said drought tolerant GM varieties of corn and cotton would be available by 2012.
“Corn will be the first drought-tolerant crop to hit the market, hopefully in 2012, depending on regulatory approval,” he said.
He said the news was not likely to wildly excite Aussie growers, who produce a negligible amount of corn, but said GM drought resistant cotton would be a boon in Australian conditions.
Nitrogen efficient GM lines would also fulfil a role in improving the environment, Dr Glick claimed.
“With reduced N application we will have less run-off of nitrogen into waterways, it will have a lot of environmental benefits, as well as agronomic.”