Monsanto submits drought-tolerant corn to USDA

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Monsanto Co said on Monday it was closer to releasing what could be the world’s first drought-tolerant biotech corn by completing regulatory submissions in the United States and Canada.

St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto, a global leader in development of genetically modified crops, said it applied for approval of its new corn with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various Canadian agencies. The company in December made a regulatory submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Monsanto is collaborating with Germany’s BASF in development of the drought-tolerant corn. The companies hope to launch the product in 2012.

Monsanto has said that bringing drought-tolerant crops to market is among its top priorities.

“Water availability, water usage, is one of the key limiting factors when it comes to crop production around the world,” Mark Lawson, Monsanto’s yield and stress platform lead executive, said in a recent interview. Lawson estimates two-thirds of yield losses farmers experience are due to drought.

Lawson says 85 percent of corn acres in the United States are under some degree of drought stress every year.

Other countries, including Argentina, have been struggling with drought.

“As we move forward and look at climate change... drought will become an increasing problem,” said Lawson.

Field trials are underway in parts of California as well as through the U.S. Great Plains, including key corn-growing areas in Nebraska and Kansas.

Monsanto is also developing a water-efficient maize for sub-saharan Africa as part of a public/private project that includes funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That project started early this year.

“The loss of yields in those areas is very very significant. We believe we can significantly improve the lives of many millions of small rural farmers in those areas,” said Lawson.

Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio