Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

BEST known for its sulfonylurea herbicides, the big US agrochemical manufacturer Du Pont plans a new mix of conventional and biotechnology products for the next century.

The move into genetically-modified crop plants will catapult Du Pont from a $30bn market into a $500bn opportunity in which farms will become supplying factories, according to Bill Kirk, company vice president and general manager for agricultural products.

In conventional agrochemicals, Du Pont has a new product pipeline stretching in the short term to 2004. It plans to split its product portfolio more evenly between herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. The first of the new products, Lexus Class herbicide, is already on UK sale but will be followed in a couple of years in Britain by a fungicide, famoxate, from a new Spanish factory.

A further two cereal fungicides, two herbicides for maize and cereals, and a vegetable insecticide will follow after 2000. The present run of new materials will culminate with a cotton and vegetable insecticide based on genetic modification.

Biotechnology will play a key role in Du Ponts future expansion but Mr Kirk says the company is taking an added value route through a 20% stake in Pioneer Seeds which will lead to crops engineered for higher quality output of desirable oils and protein. Beyond those, he anticipates genetically-engineered crops being grown for fibre and pharmaceutical production.

This approach avoids the essentially single product route chosen by Monsanto which is engineering crops resistant to Roundup. Mr Kirk also puts Du Pont at odds with Monsanto in claiming that negotiations are already under way with major grain traders to ensure Du Ponts GM crops will be separated out in the storage and shipping process to enhance their value.

This identity preservation will be essential to ensuring farmers, who will grow the new crops strictly under contract, get a premium return. For maize in the USA, Mr Kirk estimates this premium over conventionally-grown maize to be worth $75/ha to the grower.

KNIGHT Farm Machinery, of South Luffenham, Rutland, has become the first UK sprayer manufacturer approved by the Agricultural Engineers Association to carry out MoT-type tests on crop sprayers. The AEA is setting up a network of official test centres authorised to check out sprayers either on farm or at one of the centres.

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