Research: always further to go

Our research activities push the boundaries of what science can do. And the passion we bring to them comes from a very urgent concern: to make sure everyone gets enough to eat.
It’s not an impossible dream. With enough hard work and determination, we believe it’s within reach. However, science and technology alone cannot tackle such a complex challenge – factors such as political environmental, infrastructure and education also play a crucial role.

The stakes are high when it comes to research. It’s the key not just to the success of our business, but to healthy food for everyone. So we put ten per cent of our earnings straight back into the lab – where each project takes us a step closer to our objective. We know we sometimes have to wait for the big wins: it can take around ten years to develop a breakthrough crop protection product or a seed variety.

Here are some of our biggest priorities:

Increasing yields

Stress causes dramatic harvest losses
Stress causes dramatic harvest losses
Stress affects plants as well as people. And their stress levels are rising, as climate change tests their ability to survive drought, flood and temperature fluctuations.

We can’t just make these ordeals vanish, much as we’d love to. Our first step is to make plants better at coping – so they can produce high yields even in tough conditions. For example, our scientists are trying to unlock the secrets genes hold about plants’ stress tolerance.

New hybrid seeds can also boost yields – as we’ve already done by up to 30 per cent in the case of oilseed rape and rice, compared with open pollinated plants.

Improving traits

Can we make a tomato more delicious or a cotton fiber stronger? Could rice be healthier or a melon easier to eat? Yes to all the above. And they’re just examples of the many traits we can strengthen in crop plants.

In fact, we bring about 70 new varieties of vegetable seed to the market each year – each offering farmers at least one new trait that’s sure to grab the interest of their customers.

Rapeseed oil is another example of improvement that never stops. We’re helping cut the levels of unhealthy transfatty acids that may accrue during processing.

And while farmers need herbicides to kill off weeds, how can they stop killing off their crop plants into the bargain? We help make their plants strong enough to resist and even break down herbicides – thanks to substances known as safeners, which scientists have used in other applications for 30 years or technologies based on genetic engineering which makes crops tolerant against herbicides.

Not resting there, we’ve also gone on to combine herbicide re-sistance with caterpillar control – in our TwinLink™ technology, which gained approval in the US in 2012. Thus we want to help plants help themselves by fending off specific pests that threaten their survival.

Fine-tuning products

A plant has two transport systems: the xylem (blue) transports water and salts and the phloem (red) supplies all parts of the plant with nutrients, starting from the leaves. Movento® can penetrate both systems and therefore spreads through the entire plant, from the tips of the leaves to the roots. This allows the substance to reach even relatively inaccessible plant parts such as inside young shoots or deep in the root system. Sucking insects such as aphids tap into the phloem and take up the insecticidal active ingredient.
A product is just a step in a journey. There’s always a better one waiting around the corner. Diseases can quickly become resistant to treatments – so the pressure is always on to find the substances that will stop that happening. The most exciting breakthroughs happen when we harness nature’s own processes – as with Movento™, for example, which uses sap to distribute the active substance throughout the plant. Bad news for pests wherever they live and feed on it.

Other big stories from our labs include the long-lasting herbicide Alion™, which controls weeds in perennial crops, such as citrus fruits, nuts, grapes, pome fruits and stone fruits. And the fungicide Luna™, which controls a large number of fungal diseases in the field and prevents rotting processes during storage.

Another area to watch: finding pest management answers based on biological active ingredients contributing to sustainable agriculture. These include our Votivo™ product lines for seed treatment and also Natria™, a spray product containing the natural active substance from the neem tree that controls sucking and chewing insect pests.
Fine tuning products
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