BASF sees growth, opportunity, in its crop units

by Carey Gillam

  • New product launches accelerating for plant science unit
  • Herbicide launch seen having “blockbuster” potential
  • “Eco-efficiency” analysis for corn unveiled.

CHICAGO, June 9 (Reuters) - BASF, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, is investing more in its biotech crop technology unit, pushing a raft of new products to market that should start contributing earnings to the BASF bottom line within the next couple of years, company officials said on Wednesday.

“You will see basically from now on throughout the decade new product launches that grow our business,” said BASF Plant Science President Peter Eckes.

BASF will increase its annual investment this year over the roughly 150 million euros it invested into the 12-year-old unit last year as it commitment grows, Eckes said.

One key product launch is the “Cultivance” platform for South American soybeans, developed in conjunction with Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Cooperation.

Cultivance mirrors Monsanto’s popular “Roundup Ready” system of weed-killing herbicide and genetically altered crops in an offering that combines herbicide-tolerant soybean varieties with BASF’s broad spectrum imidazolinone class of herbicides.

The product has been approved in Brazil and BASF is seeking approvals in key export markets, such as China and the U.S.

The company is also on target for its 2012 rollout of a drought-tolerant corn, being developed in conjunction with Monsanto MON.N, said Eckes.

And BASF had the distinction in March of gaining European Union approval for a biotech potato, designed to be used for industrial starch production. The application had been pending for 14 years.

New biotech seed offerings come alongside the launch of several new agricultural chemical products in the United States and abroad.

The company has particularly high hopes for a new herbicide dubbed “Kixor” that targets broadleaf weeds and can help beat back so-called “super weeds” that have developed resistance to the popular glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup.

Kixor can be used alone or mixed with glyphosate and seen as a key path for growth for BASF’s crop protection division.

BASF officials believe Kixor has “blockbuster potential,” coming at a time when farmers are seeking more help with glyphosate-resistant weeds.

Peak sales potential of Kixor is seen at “north of 200 million euros,” said Heldt.

“Positive results from North America, from Argentina and expected registration in Brazil by 2012 is giving us a lot of optimism and momemtum to exceed that target,” said Heldt.

BASF spent last year 355 million euros spent last year on crop protection projects, including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides, Together with the plant science unit, the two agricultural divisions accounted for 36 percent of BASF’s research and development dollars, said BASF Crop Protection President Markus Heldt.

“We have a strong and clear commitment to the agricultural business,” said Heldt. “We need to bring continuous innovation to the market... we have a clear plan to continue investing and also increasing that investment.”

Heldt said the German company is aiming to seize upon opportunities afforded both by global calls for more sustainable agricultural practices and growing food, feed and biofuel demand.

As part of that effort, BASF is rolling out a sustainability measuring stick for its products, an “eco-efficiency” analysis for corn products designed to help farmers, consumers, and others to compare the economic and environmental aspects of products and processes.

“That will give us as a company but also as an industry some additional points and opportunities to go into more informed and better debate with some of the stakeholders but also some of our critics,” said Heldt.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)