January 30, 2020 / 10:25 PM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-Corteva speeds up North America biotech soy seed rollout, challenging Bayer

(Adds launch date in Brazil)

By Tom Polansek and Ana Mano

CHICAGO/SAO PAULO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - U.S. seeds and agricultural chemicals maker Corteva Inc said Thursday it will accelerate production of its next-generation biotech soybean seeds and complementary herbicides in the United States and Canada over the next five years.

The move heightens the competition for farmer sales with rivals Bayer AG and BASF SE, though Corteva’s product will not be available in Brazil, the world’s top soybean exporter, until the 2021/22 season.

Up to 20% of U.S. soybean acres this year could be planted with Corteva’s Enlist E3 soybeans, which are genetically modified to withstand applications of three different weed killers, the company said. That forecast was up from Corteva’s prior estimate for plantings on 10% of U.S. acres.

Corteva said a year ago that it would launch Enlist E3 in Brazil, Canada and the United States starting in 2019 and make Enlist E3 soybean seeds “broadly available” to farmers in 2020.

Corteva representatives in Brazil told Reuters the Enlist system was not yet being sold there because the company plans to launch it in Brazil along with Conkesta E3 soybeans, which have not been approved by European regulators.

China, the world’s top soybean importer, authorized shipments of Conkesta soybeans last month. The Conkesta trait protects against caterpillars that attack soybeans, Corteva said. Bugs are particularly a problem for farmers in tropical Brazil.

Corteva also said that starting in 2021 it will significantly reduce over five years its volume of seeds engineered by Bayer to tolerate weed killers based on the chemicals dicamba and glyphosate. Corteva, spun off last year after a merger of Dow Chemical and Dupont, had previously been set to sell Bayer’s dicamba-resistant Xtend brand soybean seeds for the next few years.

Corteva now expects “minimal use of the trait platform after the completion of the ramp-up of the Enlist weed control system,” according to a statement.

Bayer’s Xtend soybeans have been popular for their robust yields but have drawn complaints, lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny after the dicamba herbicide drifted to neighboring fields and killed plants that were not genetically modified to resist it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2018 approved the use of dicamba for two more years, adding restrictions on how it can be used.

Bayer has separately faced lawsuits claiming that its glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup causes cancer. The company said on Friday it reached an agreement with plaintiffs’ lawyers to postpone a Missouri jury trial over such allegations. (Reporting by Tom Polansek and Karl Plume in Chicago; Additional reporting by Ana Mano in Sao Paulo; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Dan Grebler)

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