The Challenges And Opportunities For Dow’s Enlist Weed Control System

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The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW) has developed a new weed control system called Enlist, in order to address the growing need to tackle the problem of weed resistance to the glyphosate-based herbicides being used widely. The product holds huge potential for Dow, as it can potentially address a fast-growing market need in an environment of rising food demand from emerging markets. But the product has been facing a lot of opposition from various communities, primarily due to the presence of 2,4-D chemical in the Enlist Duo herbicide. Also, pending regulatory approvals have already delayed the launch of this technology by almost two years. In this article, we provide a detailed summary of what the product really is, its use, the competition and the potential it holds for Dow.

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What is the Enlist Weed Control System?

Enlist Weed Control system includes seeds that are genetically modified to tolerate the new herbicide from Dow, Enlist Duo. This herbicide contains 2,4-D that adds another mode of action to the glyphosate-based herbicides. The technology aims at providing higher crop yields through better protection against tougher weeds, which have been growing resistant to the glyphosate. Commercial application of the system requires both the new seed traits as well as the new herbicide to be approved by the regulatory authorities. [1]

Why Use Herbicide Tolerant Crops?

Weeds pose several problems to farmers as they not only compete with planted crops for sunlight, soil nutrients and water, but also give shelter to pests that can harm the crop. These problems reduce crop yield significantly. Earlier, farmers used to fight weeds primarily by tilling the fields before planting the crop. However, due to many economic disadvantages of tilling, no-till farming techniques started gaining momentum during later half of the 20th century. Monsanto introduced the most successful and widely adopted technique in the form of Roundup Ready weed control system in 1996. The system comprised of seeds that were genetically altered to tolerate glyphosate-based herbicides. Modified genetics ensured that the glyphosate-based herbicides, which were effective on a broad spectrum of weeds, did not harm the crop. Since then, herbicide tolerant crops have significantly driven the global market for genetically modified (GM) crops. Today, these crops occupy more than 60% of the total area covered by GM crops globally. ((Herbicide Tolerance Technology: Glyphosate and Glufosinate, www.isaaa.org))

Market Need For Better Technology

With weeds growing tougher and increasingly resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides, there is a need for another mode of precaution to sustain and further grow crop yields. Because of the shear size of the herbicide tolerant crops market, a successful product that can potentially replace existing area under Roundup Ready system can significantly boost Dow’s market share in the GM seeds market. Moreover, the fact that Monsanto was the first one to get a license to Enlist herbicide tolerant trait from Dow, indicates that the technology has a huge potential to capture value in the fast-growing GM seed market.

For More On Dow-Monsanto Cross Licensing Deal, Read: Dow And Monsanto Deal Sets The Stage For Next Generation Of GM Seeds

According to a third-party research conducted by Dow Chemical, cropland acres with weeds resistant to glyphosate based herbicides increased around 50% in 2012 alone and around 80% over the last two years, to reach over 65 million acres. [2]

Competition, Opposition and Regulatory Hurdles

In terms of competition, Monsanto, the leader in GM seeds market has developed another herbicide tolerant system called the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop system, which uses the new Roundup Xtend herbicide. The Roundup Xtend herbicide adds dicamba as an alternate action to the glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide. This herbicide will have to be used with Roundup Ready Xtend seeds that can tolerate the application of dicamba as well as glyphosate. [3]

There is considerable opposition against the use of both these weed control systems. In the case of Dow’s Enlist system, primary concerns are associated with the potential harmful impacts on specialty crops that are not genetically modified to tolerate the inadvertent application of 2,4-D chemical used in the Enlist Duo herbicide, due to its volatile nature and ‘drift’. There are a lot of health concerns related to the use of Enlist GMO crops as well. These issues just add on to the ongoing protests against all the GMO crops with growing noise around labeling of all food items derived from these crops.

This opposition is also leading to extended reviews by the regulatory authority in the U.S. Only last month, the Department of Agriculture in the U.S. (USDA) extended its review of both, Dow’s Enlist corn as well as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Xtend soybean. Earlier, Dow planned to launch its Enlist corn for 2013 planting season, which has now been delayed by almost two years. Although, the company has received regulatory approvals necessary for launching its Enlist corn as well as soybean and the use of Enlist Duo herbicide in Canada, pending USDA approvals are also delaying the launch of these products in Canada. ((USDA says more review needed for new Monsanto, Dow GMO crops, www.reuters.com))

Significant Potential To Generate Incremental Revenues

Overall, we believe that the Enlist weed control system is a very potent product for Dow as a successful launch, and if it gets regulatory approvals, it can result in incremental revenues for Dow Chemical in more than one way. Firstly, it would mean higher revenues from the company’s seeds business primarily driven by the market need for superior crop protection against tough weeds. Secondly, it would mean higher revenues from the sale of its Enlist Duo herbicide that the company claims has been engineered to minimize the harmful effects associated with the use of 2,4-D chemical. Thirdly, it would imply addition of proven, effective weed resistance technology to the stacked trait combination in the next generation SmartStax, which would further bolster seed revenues. Lastly, it would imply higher licensing revenues as more and more seed companies would want to sell a successful technology to their customers.

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Notes:
  1. Enlist Weed Control System, www.enlist.com []
  2. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Agriculture Conference, www.dow.com []
  3. Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System, www.monsanto.com []
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  • commented 6 days ago
  • tags: DOW
  • This is interesting technology and although I believe I know the answer, I think it prudent to ask anyway. Does the Enlist weed control system (2,4-D component) contain ANY dioxins? Thank you in advance for your timely reply.