UPDATE 1-Monsanto tests planting platform, eyes new microbial business

Wed May 15, 2013 6:28pm EDT

By Carey Gillam

ST. LOUIS May 15 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co, the world's largest seed company, is developing two new platforms that diverge from its core business and are seen as potential key long-term growth drivers, according to top Monsanto executives.

"What we are building right now is based on the strength of our germplasm and our breeding. That is the key engine," said Monsanto Chief Financial Officer Pierre Courduroux in an interview. "When you get to the next layers of growth, that is where you'll start getting into those new platforms we're building. We are putting the base in place so that it is the next layer of growth."

The first platform, a precision planting product called "FieldScripts," is being rolled out for beta testing this year to more than 150 farmers in the U.S. Midwest.

FieldScripts will be sold alongside Monsanto seed products at dealers and is based on soil data, slope, organic matter and other information gathered from individual farmer fields.

The data is translated to an individualized prescription for the farmer that recommends what type of seed, what density and spacing a farmer should use. Lower seeding rates might be used in parts of one field and higher rates suggested in another based on the data gathered.

Certain equipment will be required to implement the product, but farmers should see a gain of 5-10 bushels per acre, said Pam Strifler, Monsanto's vice president of integrated farming systems.

The company is still not sure how it will price the product or license it to rivals as it does its seed technology, but has high hopes for commercialization in the next two to three years and strong long-term growth.

The second new platform seen as having high potential involves new biological research. Monsanto's "biodirect" research is aimed at developing products that use molecules found in nature as topical applications for crop protection.

The company is accelerating work to screen and test micro-organisms to find ways to use the bacteria and fungi to optimize the performance of crops and protect them from weeds and pests.

"It is an interesting time in the company as we look at some of these new opportunities," said Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant.

Biologicals are used to complement or replace agricultural chemical products and represent a growing market segment of roughly $1.7 billion in annual sales, according to Monsanto.

The core business of providing seeds and chemicals to farmers remains the top priority as Monsanto see increasingly strong growth internationally, said Grant. Latin America is seeing fast expansion, and Eastern Europe holds particular future appeal, as do areas in seeds business.

"That is a big change for us," said Grant. "We've seen a business movement from really domestically based to more and more ... a global business."

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