BASF to halt U.S. nutritionally enhanced corn project

Focus to shift to fungal resistant corn
Jan. 31, 2013 @ 04:51 PM

BASF Plant Science is stopping research into a genetically modified, nutritionally enhanced feed corn in the United States, and is discontinuing efforts to get approval for genetically modified potato products in Europe.

The company plans to add corn as a target crop for its fungal resistance research. The new research and development activities for fungal resistant corn will be at the company’s Plant Science global headquarters in the Research Triangle Park, and field test sites will be set up in North Carolina and in the Midwest.

“(Fungal resistant corn has) got a very robust market potential, and that’s where we want to shift our resources, and put them into that area,” said Fran Castle Rowland, global brand communications senior manager for BASF Plant Science. “We expect to be growing here in the RTP with positions that are more focused on, let’s say, the real research end of those kinds of projects,” she added.

BASF Plant Science is the plant biotechnology division of the German chemical company BASF. BASF has about 700 employees in the Research Triangle Park, with about 240 workers in the plant science division here.

Last year, the company announced it was moving its plant biotechnology headquarters from Germany to the Research Triangle Park. The change was made in a response to a “lack of acceptance” from consumers, farmers and politicians in Europe for genetically modified plant products, a company official said in a news release.

The move of the plant science headquarters has been completed, Rowland said. About 15 employees from Europe moved to the Research Triangle Park. The division has also had organic growth here, Rowland said.

On Tuesday, the division announced that it will no longer pursue regulatory approvals for genetically modified potatoes in Europe because of “uncertainty in the regulatory environment and threats of field destruction.”

Last year when the company announced it was moving its plant biotechnology headquarters to the RTP, the company said it was stopping development and commercialization of all products targeted solely for cultivation in European markets.

That included the genetically modified starch potatoes Amflora, Amadea and Modea, and a potato called Fortuna, developed to be resistant to the late blight disease, along with a late blight-resistant starch potato and fungal disease-resistant wheat variety.

At that time, BASF Plant Science said it planned to continue seeking regulatory approval for the products that it had already started. But on Tuesday, the company said it was stopping that effort.

Also on Tuesday, the company announced that it was stopping research into a nutritionally enhanced corn project. Six field sites will close in Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa, and about 40 jobs will be eliminated.

Rowland said the company has been working on a genetically modified, nutritionally enhanced corn. That’s a specialty market, Rowland said. Farmers have to see value in growing it, and producers have to see value in feeding it to their animals. The company couldn’t find a seed partner.

 “Even though our science and technology has been really successful…with the price of corn and a whole lot of things, we just basically came to the point where there would not be enough value that everyone in the value chain could share,” Rowland said.

Corn prices have been impacted by increases in global demand, as well as the U.S. ethanol industry, Rowland said. That means there’s more of a desire from farmers to get as much yield off their acreage as they can.

“So they’re going to look for the best yielding corn hybrids they can plant, and they’re not going to be interested in growing some of these more specialty varieties. It’s…an economic supply and demand situation,” Rowland said.