AGRICULTURE

"Drought-tolerant" corn offers grain of hope

A genetically modified corn that is supposedly resistant to drought will next year be put on the market by US agribusiness giant Monsanto.

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AFP - Agribusiness giant Monsanto announced Wednesday a significant step towards creating the world's first drought-tolerant corn, a development it says will "reset the bar" in farming productivity.

The genetically modified corn has moved to the final stage of development and could be available on the commercial market as early as 2010, the company said in a statement.

"Drought-tolerant corn is designed to provide farmers yield stability during periods when water supply is scarce by mitigating the effects of drought -- or water stress -- within a corn plant," Monsanto said.

The corn is the first in a series of crops planned by Monsanto to address the affects of high food prices and climate change on agriculture-based cultures around the world by reducing the need for water.

The next generation to be released over the next decade are designed to "enable farmers to produce more on each acre of farmland while minimizing the input of energy and resources such as water," Monsanto said.

Trials of the corn conducted last year in drought-prone areas of the American midwest "met or exceeded the six percent to 10 percent target yield enhancement," according to the company.

The trial advanced the yield by up to 10 corn bushels per acre (six quintals per hectare) beyond the average maximum of 130 bushels per acre (82 quintals per hectare), it said.

 "This product and other yield improvements we are developing will reset the bar for on-farm productivity," said Monsanto biotechnology chief Steve Padgette.

The product, created in collaboration with the German-based plant biotechnology specialist BASF, has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for regulatory clearance.

Worldwide cereal production set a new record in 2008 at 2.24 billion tons, a 5.4 percent increase over last year, the United Nations food agency said last month.

Food prices in developing countries meanwhile remain high, affecting the "food security of large numbers of vulnerable populations," according to a report from the Rome-based agency.

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