Syngenta has high hopes for the commercial prospects of its new breed of corn, developed by scientists in Research Triangle Park, that protects from damage inflicted by an especially destructive pest -- the corn rootworm beetle.
Damage from the rootworm beetle costs U.S. farmers more than $1 billion a year, making it the "single most destructive pest in corn production," according to Syngenta.
The Switzerland-based agribusiness giant announced Thursday that its new, genetically modified Agrisure Duracade corn has been cleared for sale by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- its final regulatory hurdle. The product was previously approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"When farmers go to buy corn seeds in the fall for planting in 2014, Duracade will be available," said Syngenta spokesman Steven Goldsmith. The company employs about 400 workers at its biotechnology research arm in RTP and also has about 700 workers in Greensboro.
Syngenta is the world's No. 3 purveyor of seeds, behind Monsanto and Dupont. It's also a leader in crop-protection products such as insecticides and herbicides.
"We expect this will be a significant contributor to the future growth of Syngenta’s corn portfolio for many years to come," Goldsmith said. In 2012 Syngenta sales of corn and soybean seeds topped $1.8 billion, a 25 percent increase over 2011.
Damages from rootworm is most prevalent in the Midwest corn belt. "It's really not an issue in North Carolina," Goldsmith said.
Syngenta researchers Eric Chen and Hope Hart, both of whom work in RTP, are the principal scientists behind Agrisure Duracade, Goldsmith said.
Tests of Agrisure Duracade show that it's superior to prior generations of corn designed to resist rootworm, including those produced by Syngenta, Goldsmith said.
Agrisure Duracade contains a protein that kills rootworm beetles before they hatch from eggs and feed on the corn roots, Goldsmith said.
Agrisure Duracade also incorporates the company's earlier generations of rootworm-resistance traits to counteract the rootworm beetle's ability to develop immunity to any one trait, Goldsmith said.
Agrisure Decade marks the fourth new breed of corn designed to enable farmers to grow more -- and better -- corn per acre that Syngenta has launched in the past half-dozen years. One of those products was Agrisure Artesian, introduced in July 2010, which was the first of a new generation of drought-resistant corn.