BIOTECH CROPS officially turned 10 years old this past summer. Monsanto celebrated the milestone by staging an event at its research facility in Jerseyville, IL, where the first U.S. plant biotechnology field trial was held in 1987. The success of biotech crops is widely acknowledged; today more than 200 million acres are planted with biotech traits worldwide.

Speakers at the event reported that biotechnology will continue to grow in importance. Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer, Monsanto, compared today's plant biotech industry to that of the computer industry in the 1960s. From basic tools for regulating electronics, computer chips are now in cell phones, PDAs and the Internet. One can only imagine what is in store for the biotech industry in the next 40 years, Fraley said.

Looking ahead at agriculture, Kerry Preete, Monsanto's vice president of U.S. crop production, noted that agriculture will be asked to address energy and nutritional issues with products such as high fermentable corn and low-linolenic soybeans.

Soybeans with improved nutritional qualities are on their way, too, and include mid-oleic and low-linolenic traits to help improve the oxidative stability of cooking oil. The third generation is expected to feature zero saturated fat plus mid-oleic and low-linolenic traits.

Drought-tolerant hybrids are in the pipeline. Genomic research that started in 1997 allowed Monsanto to identify drought-tolerant genes and introduce them into corn. The hybrids are currently in phase one of Monsanto's research and development program. The drought-tolerant genes, Padgette noted, have helped increase corn yields by more than 10% in tests in drought conditions. Phase one work also is being done to extend drought tolerance into soybeans and cotton.