A Friendly Fungus is the Next Breakthrough for Farmer says Monsanto

A new feature for its genetically modified corn seeds that it says will not only boost yields but cut down on fertilizer use and carbon-dioxide emissions is being introduced by Monsanto Co., a lightning rod for critics of modern agricultural techniques.

A friendly fungus that helps corn plants in their earliest growth stages has been used to make a coating for seed by the seed giant along with with Danish company Novozymes A/S.

Microbial technology technology is the basis of this research in which scientists look to fungi and other organisms such as bacteria to help farmers and the St. Louis-based Monsanto, which earlier this year agreed to be acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG, is hailing the product as a breakthrough in this technology.

The companies said in a joint statement on Monday, that compared to those that had not been treated by the company product, corn crops treated with the new Monsanto-Novozymes microbial — officially known as Acceleron B-300 SAT — had far better yields.

Unlike previous versions of similar coatings, the new product is compatible with other chemical treatments and stays on seeds longer. By 2025, this new coating could be applied to more than 90 million acres (36 million hectares).

Colin Bletsky, vice president for Novozymes’ BioAg unit said that the seed treatment could “become one of the biggest biological products in the ag industry.”  “Harnessing the power of nature’s microbes, farmers will be able to produce more crops,” Bletsky said.

Monsanto spokesman John Combest told that media that synthetic chemical treatments for seeds is a mature industry and for decades now, farmers Bottom of Form

have been using synthetic chemical treatments for seeds for decades to protect plants from pests as they take root.

He said that it has only been in the last decade or so that microbial seed treatments, in contrast, are niche products that have boomed in usage and research. Combest said that while traditional chemicals and pesticides is a market valued at about $240 billion, the agricultural microbial market currently has about $1.8 billion in sales.

The new microbial coating helps the roots of plants to access nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil as it works by growing along the roots of plants and has been derived from a fungus called Penicillium bilaiae. According to the release, yield were boosted by more than 3 bushels an acre on average during trials for crops that were treated with the new microbial coating.

The spores will stay on the seeds for two years. Farmers had to face a time limit on planting the seeds that were treated with the previous version of the product was known as JumpStart in which the coating remained on the seeds for a mere 120 days in comparison.

Additionally, since JumpStart wasn’t compatible with traditional chemical treatments, including insecticides and fungicides, farmers took care of applying JumpStart to seeds themselves. Now, Monsanto says it can include the microbial along with other coatings before shipping them to retailers and farmers.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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