| INDIANAPOLIS, March 10
INDIANAPOLIS, March 10 Dan Kittle has spent more
than a decade waiting for this day.
As the man in charge of research and development at Dow
AgroSciences, the unit of Dow Chemical Co that develops
agricultural seeds and pesticides, Kittle remembers the "big
shock" when rival Monsanto Co unveiled a genetically
modified seed in 1996 designed to be used in combination with a
specific herbicide, a combination that rapidly led Monsanto to
Since then, Monsanto has become the world's largest seed
company with $15 billion in annual sales, up roughly 200 percent
from a decade ago, and Kittle and a team of Dow researchers have
been working to catch up.
In that quest, Dow has increased research and development
spending 75 percent, expanded greenhouse space, also by 75
percent, and made 14 acquisitions since 2007.
With a string of new crop and chemical products in its
pipeline, the company projects it will double revenues over the
next five to seven years. For 2013, sales totaled $7.1 billion.
One key to Dow's rise in the agriculture seed and chemical
kingdom is the company's new GMO seed and herbicide combination
branded the "Enlist Weed Control System." U.S. regulators have
indicated they are poised to grant needed approvals, and after
more than two years of scrutiny, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's final public comment period closes on Tuesday.
"Enlist is the most important release we've had," said
Dow pegs the market opportunity for Enlist at about $1
billion. It plans to offer Enlist corn and soybean, the two most
widely planted U.S. crops, next year in concert with Dow's
Enlist Duo herbicide, which the crops are engineered to
"We are moving ahead assuming we will have regulatory
approvals," said Tim Hassinger, vice president of Dow crop
protection. "We feel very good."
Enlist is aimed at replacing Monsanto's biotech "Roundup
Ready" crops, which make up roughly 90 percent of U.S. corn and
soybean plantings every spring. Dow is currently a small player
in both, with an estimated market share in U.S. soybean seed of
about 2 percent and a 4 percent share in corn.
Monsanto's Roundup Ready cropping system has dominated U.S.
agriculture because it is easy to use. Farmers can spray Roundup
herbicide directly on top of their crops, then watch the weeds
die and the crops flourish because a genetic alteration makes
the crops impervious to the weedkiller.
But heavy use of Roundup has triggered an explosion of
herbicide-resistant "superweeds" that farmers have found it hard
Dow and its competitors have been racing to come up with a
replacement crop and chemical combination. Monsanto is also
developing a new biotech cropping system, and Monsanto
spokeswoman Gayla Daugherty said Dow's advancement through the
regulatory system is "good news for ag technology."
While Dow is poised to be the first to garner regulatory
approval, Monsanto hopes to be next in line.
Tough competition is only one of many hurdles Dow has faced.
Even though Enlist combines a 60-year-old herbicide component
known as 2,4-D that is found in hundreds of commonly used lawn
care products, with glyphosate, the chief ingredient in
long-used Roundup, the new herbicide has many critics.
The component 2,4-D has a reputation for drifting easily
through the air and sometimes kills not just weeds but also
crops beyond the fields where it is sprayed.
Also, 2,4-D was one of the ingredients in the Agent Orange
defoliant used in the Vietnam War that later was linked to
illnesses in soldiers and Vietnamese civilians.
Opponents, citing USDA estimates for a dramatic increase in
the use of 2,4-D, have said they fear potential health and
environmental problems stemming from increased herbicide
pollution in soil, air and waterways.
The USDA estimates that the use of 2,4-D will rise 74
percent even without Enlist to 44.5 million pounds by 2020, up
from 25.6 million pounds in 2011. If Enlist is approved, USDA
has said usage could rise to 176 million pounds by 2020.
"The admission that 2,4-D use will increase that much is
huge. That is the biggest thing," said Bill Freese, a researcher
with the Center for Food Safety, which opposes approval of
Dow has said research shows the Enlist system is safe if
properly used, but critics argue that Dow has falsely made that
claim in the past. Dow's Dursban insecticide was a widely used
household pesticide for decades until numerous health concerns
led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out
certain uses in 2000 because of risks found with the active
The EPA is currently wrapping up its evaluation of the
Enlist Duo herbicide. EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said the
EPA final regulatory decision will be coordinated with the
USDA's final decision after both agencies review the public
comments about Enlist, which are accepted through Tuesday.
SPRAY BOOTH TESTS
Dow researchers have acknowledged some past problems with
2,4-D. But they have said Enlist is much improved, thanks to a
new formulation that dramatically reduces the pesticide's
ability to drift off-site or travel through the air as vapor.
It has been no easy task. Researchers set up a high-tech
laboratory "spray booth" where technicians have taken tens of
thousands of measurements of droplets of 2,4-D to formulate a
spray that is less able to drift on the wind.
Dow researchers also had the new 2,4-D tested in a
state-of-the-art wind tunnel in Queensland, Australia, and
measured air concentrations levels over field tests.
"When we first started, we didn't know if we could do this,"
said Dow senior research scientist Steve Wilson. "But we've been
at this for years. And we are where we need to be."
Many farmer groups have said they are eager for the new
herbicide and crop combination.
"These new products like Enlist will help us address some of
the weed resistance issues. It is something we need," said Ray
Gaesser, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer and president of the
American Soybean Association, which has urged the USDA to
Still, more hurdles lie ahead. Dow has not yet won China's
approval for import of Enlist crops, and Dow officials said they
may go ahead with commercialization in the United States even
without Chinese approval. Such an approach could jeopardize some
U.S. grain sales to the world's second-largest economy. A
similar scenario involving a biotech corn developed by Syngenta
has caused some shipments of U.S. corn to be rejected
by Chinese importers.
There is also a possibility that weeds will become resistant
to Enlist, as they have to Roundup.
Dow officials have said they hope to extend Enlists'
longevity by encouraging farmers to also make use of other
"The last thing we want to do is invest all this in Enlist
and have resistance develop," said Hassinger. "Enlist is going
to be a key contributor to our growth."