GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Industry Predicts 800% Increase in RRS & Bt Corn in 1997

    By Anna Driver     CHICAGO, March 5 (Reuter) - U.S. farmers plan to
sharply increase the number of acres planted to gene-altered soybeans in
1997, but interest in gene-altered corn is more subdued, seed industry and
grain sources said. 

    "Supply of Round-Up Ready soybeans will be completely depleted," said
John Romines, seed manager with <Countrymark Cooperative> in Indianapolis,

    Herbicide-resistant Round-Up Ready soybean acreage is forecast to be
eight to 10 million, up from 1.2 million last year, said a spokesperson from
Monsanto Co <MTC.N>.
    Monsanto manufactures the Round-Up Ready gene technology and distributes
it to various seed companies. 

    Acreage estimates for corn resistant to the European corn borer pest is
harder to forecast because more companies control distribution of the Bt
(Bacillus thuringiensis) corn. 

    The number of acres planted to the two brands of BT corn distributed by
Novartis Seed <NOVZn.S> could be as high as four million, said Amy Beeler,
Novartis spokesperson. 

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in its latest acreage estimate, put
total soybean area at 65.3 million acres and corn acreage at 81 million.
    The popularity of the herbicide-resistant Round-Up Ready soybeans is due
to the seeds' performance in 1996, word of mouth among farmers and increased
availability from seed companies, industry sources said. 

    Farmers liked the herbicide-resistant soybeans because they were able to
keep their fields "clean" or free of weeds last year with minimal
applications of strong herbicides, which bolstered yields, seed industry
sources said.
    "Last year, we didn't know if the technology worked very well, but people
were very pleased with their (soybean) 

yields," said Wayne Hoener, spokesman for Asgrow Seeds in Kalamazoo, Mich. 

    Romines said Round-Up soybeans performed well in part because weather was
optimal in many places for effective herbicide application and seed companies
also inserted the gene-technology in their best lines of seed. 

    "Seed companies put that technology in their commercial bean lines that
they knew would perform well," said Romines.
    Genetically-altered corn sales in 1997 are reportedly good, but the
relative high cost of Bt corn seed and farmer dissatisfaction with some
strains have somewhat dampened interest in that product, sources said. 

    "Sales of Bt corn are showing mixed results, with several companies
saying that the limited supplies will probably sell out, but that 'it's not
flying off the shelves,'" said Daine Bosworth stock analyst Bonnie Wittenburg
in Minneapolis, Minn. 

    Bt corn costs approximately $125 per bag, which compares with $70 a bag
for "our best corn," Romines said. 

    But cost shouldn't be an issue because farmers save money if their crop
is free of damage from the corn borer, seed company officials said. 

    "It depends on where you are, but we've seen a gain of 10 to 16 bushels
per acre with Bt corn," Beeler with Novartis said. "Most farmers pencil it
out and see the benefits." 

17:37 03-05-97