"In the last 10 years, the power and the knowledge and the science behind biotechnology just skyrocketed," Bill Parker told those attending the Marshall Rotary Club's annual farmer appreciation luncheon at Missouri Valley College.
Parker, who works for Monsanto from his home office in Boonville, talked about Monsanto's shift in focus from developing pesticides and herbicides to developing seeds with built-in biotechnology.
During the last several years, he said, Monsanto has gone from spending up to 90 percent of its research and development funding on chemicals to only 20 percent, with the remaining money funding biotechnology and seed development.
"It's hard to believe it's almost been 10 years since Roundup Ready was introduced," Parker said. "One of the exciting things about this technology is where it's going in the future."
Monsanto is focusing on increasing yields through biotechnology and traditional breeding, and is focusing on seeds that are more tolerant to stresses such as drought, excessive water and cold temperatures, Parker said. He said Monsanto is also trying to develop corn which will use nitrogen more efficiently.
To find the gene or genes that allow plants to grow in less favorable conditions, Monsanto is looking at plants that grow well at cooler temperatures and in wet weather, Parker said. "It's a race at planting time around here," he said. "Is it warm enough? Is it wet enough?"
But along with developing seeds for profit, Monsanto has worked with public universities and other groups to develop Golden Rice, which contains a precursor to vitamin A, Parker said. He said between 100 and 140 million children in the world suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which the World Health Organization lists as the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. Rice is a major staple of many countries around the globe.
Bub Caldwell, who organizes the farmer appreciation luncheon every year, asked if Third World counties are resisting the biotechnology that would help stop the vitamin deficiency common in Asia.
"There's not a whole lot of resistance to that biotechnology in the Third World countries," Parker answered, adding that he thinks the United States is progressing in getting other countries to accept biotechnology products.
In introducing the speaker, Caldwell said that although the agricultural technology company has been the center of some controversy, "Monsanto is without a doubt a big player in the agriculture market."
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