* Vilmorin says JV with KWS may bring GM varieties from 2014
* Firm ran field tests in some EU countries last summer
* Says continuing to boost wheat R&D through deals
PARIS, March 1 (Reuters) - French seed group Vilmorin is testing genetically modified maize in Europe, despite widespread hostility in the region to GM crops, as it expects the benefits of such varieties eventually to lead to their acceptance, the company said.
Vilmorin has folded its GM maize research into a joint venture with German peer KWS SAAT, and the partners could market their own GM varieties as soon as 2014, Chief Executive Emmanuel Rougier said on Thursday.
“Europe will not be able to avoid the use of GM crops one day,” he said at a presentation of first-half results. “They will become indispensable to achieve competitive production.”
France has been one of the most vigorous opponents of GM crop cultivation and its government is preparing a new ban on planting Monsanto’s MON810 maize after courts last year struck down a previous ban dating back to 2008.
Biotech firms have scaled backed GM research in Europe in view of stalled EU talks on crop approvals and with public opposition going as far as ransacking tests.
Vilmorin no longer does field tests in France due to a hostile climate but last summer ran tests in some other EU countries, notably in Spain which currently has the highest use of GM maize in the 27-member EU, Rougier said.
The field experiments showed good results for maize with herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant properties, he said.
Vilmorin sells GM maize outside Europe, principally in the United States, but does not currently have its own patented traits, which means it incorporates strains from other companies such as Monsanto to which it pays royalties.
It formed the maize joint venture with KWS, called Genective, late last year to develop varieties for different regions including Europe.
The two companies are already commercial partners in the United States through their joint venture AgReliant.
Vilmorin also seeks to boost its research strength in wheat through a string of small-scale deals, including a partnership with Finland’s Boreal Plant Breeding and a full takeover of French durum wheat seed firm Eurodur.
Vilmorin this week posted an operating loss of 17.2 million euros ($23 million) in its fiscal first half to Dec. 31, in keeping with the seasonality of its activity that is weighted towards its second half to end-June.
It reiterated full-year guidance for like-for-like sales growth above 7 percent and an operating margin of 11 percent.
Forecasts for higher U.S. maize plantings and expectations winter losses in Europe would lead to switching to spring crops would support second-half activity but any boost would be limited by tight seed supply, Rougier said.
$1 = 0.7476 euros Reporting by Gus Trompiz, editing by Jane Baird