GERMANY – Bayer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, is developing a postemergence row crop herbicide with a new mode of action slated for commercialization by the end of the decade while also planning to launch a new corn variety.

A row crop is a crop that can be planted in rows wide enough to allow it to be tilled or otherwise cultivated by agricultural machinery, machinery tailored for the seasonal activities of row crop

Rachel Rama, Bayer Head of Small Molecules, said farmers could see the new herbicide, which is being designed for major broad acre crops, by the end of the decade (2030) if it continues to meet testing protocols and clears regulatory hurdles.

“It has excellent weed control in grasses and a tremendous safety profile,” said Reiter.

No herbicide with a new molecular site of action (SOA) has been developed since the 1980s.

Bayer is planning a limited launch of its Short Stature Corn in 2023 through its Ground Breakers field trial program in which it will be working with around 150 early adopters. An initial commercial launch will follow in 2024.

“Our biotechnology [short stature] product, which is going to launch around 2027, is really the anchoring point where we can deploy the product across a very large amount of pretty much all of our genetics in the U.S. and Canada and in South America as well,” said Bob Reiter, Head of Research and Development (R&D).

The hybrids debuted in Mexico under the brand name Vitala. The company is now advancing the concept through their U.S. pipeline in three separate versions — traditional breeding, genetically engineered and gene edited.

After the launch, a gene-edited version of short-stature corn will follow, particularly in other regions of the world where biotechnology products are not the first choice of governments and farmers.

Short Stature Corn stands between 6 and 8 feet tall, compared with normal hybrids that stand nine to 11 feet tall, according to Successful Farming.

Herbicides using RNAi technologies

According to  surveys and conversations conducted  by Bayer, nearly 75% of farmers would plant one-third of their corn acres to Short Stature Corn the following year if available.

“To give you some context, there’s more interest [among farmers] in Short Stature Corn right now than there ever has been for any biotechnology trait that we ever introduced into the market,” said Reiter.

Increased standability is part of the value proposition to farmers, he said, as more standability translates into more yield potential.

Farmers can maximize their fertility and crop protection products, as shorter corn enables them to enter fields with application equipment later in the season. This also helps farmers better manage risk and simplify decision making.

This year, Bayer will launch SmartStax PRO across 100,000 U.S. corn acres. It uses RNAi technology as another mode of action to control corn rootworm. SmartStax PRO will team the RNAi mode of action with two Bt events, Cry3Bb1 and Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1, that are used in current SmartStax packages.

In 2024, Bayer will introduce VT4Pro with RNAi technology. This will give farmers another choice to control below-ground insects in less-intense areas, say Bayer officials.

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