SAO PAULO Brazil's Sugarcane Technology Center and Germany's BASF said on Tuesday they will jointly develop a genetically modified sugarcane with yields up to 25 percent higher than those currently available.
The cane, expected to hit the market within 10 years, will be able to handle drought better than current strains, said Luiz Louzano, biotechnology manager at BASF's local unit.
"Our aim is to develop a cane which can survive in more hostile environments, areas with water limitations. Those characteristics could raise the average cane yield (in Brazil) to 100 tons per hectare, from 80 currently," Louzano said.
This is BASF's first step into the development of cane varieties.
The world's largest chemical maker, which invested 1 billion euros in the past 10 years to set up a gene development program, signed a deal earlier this year with Monsanto to create the world's first drought-resistant biotech corn.
It now expects to introduce some of these genes in conventional cane varieties developed by CTC, which was created in 2004 from Brazil's Copersucar and has been a world leader in cane research.
"Our role is to research and validate new genes and look for partnerships with the best seed makers," Louzano said.
The variety is expected to benefit mainly new cane frontiers such as the west of Sao Paulo, Triangulo Mineiro, in Minas Gerais state, and Brazil's center-west states.
Cane planting has been expanding rapidly in these regions, which are usually drier and have poorer land than traditional cane-producing areas like Ribeirao Preto and Piracicaba, in the state of Sao Paulo, where yields are the world's highest.
"It's also a permanent goal for us to develop varieties that use less water due to its scarcity. It's an effort in place in other parts of the world too," Louzano said.
In Brazil, BASF signed an agreement with state-run agricultural research company Embrapa in 2007 to develop a herbicide-tolerant soy variety. The product was submitted for approval by Brazilian authorities in December 2008 and is expected to be cleared by 2011/12.
So far, no GMO cane variety has been approved in Brazil or in any other country.
The German company expects to submit the new variety for governmental approval within the next seven years.
(Reporting by Inae Riveras; Editing by Walter Bagley)