Syngenta profits up, workforce down

Swiss agro-chemicals company Syngenta reports better-than-expected full-year net income and sales and says that prospects for agricultural markets are positive for 2004. The company reports that full-year 2003 net profit rose 37% to $363 million. Sales in 2003 rose 6% to $6.578 billion. Sales were enhanced by 7% due to the weakness of the U.S. dollar.

For 2004, Syngenta sees early signs of stabilization in the crop protection market. Nevertheless, the company plans to stick with its aggressive cost-cutting synergy plan that has been in place since Syngenta was created by the merger of the Novartis and AstraZeneca ag chemical businesses in September 2000. Since the merger, Syngenta has cut more than 3,600 employees from its payroll.

Monsanto wins Bt patent suit

The appeals board of the U.S. Patent Office has ruled that Monsanto, not Mycogen, was the first to invent the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insect-resistant gene in corn. The dispute goes back eight years with a patent assigned to Mycogen, a subsidiary of Dow AgroSciences, and a patent application assigned to Monsanto for its YieldGard Rootworm Bt corn and Bollgard Bt cotton.

No financial settlement is involved, but Dow will not receive future royalty payments. Dow will continue to sell Bt products through a license to Monsanto. Monsanto will immediately seek a patent covering the Bt technology. — Chemical Week

Poast judgment

The Minnesota Supreme Court recently upheld a class action judgment against BASF Corporation for its business practices related to the herbicides Poast and Poast Plus. The total damages to be paid to farmers, including interest and costs, amount to about $52 million.

At issue was whether BASF was charging specialty crop growers substantially more per gallon for essentially the same sethoxydim herbicide. In 1992, Poast Plus sold at about $50/gal., while minor crop farmers paid at least $100/gal. for Poast. The court found that, even though EPA had approved both herbicides for the same crops, BASF had falsely warned farmers and dealers that they could be prosecuted for “off label” use of the cheaper herbicide.

Tyson caught in IBP suit

A federal jury recently awarded $1.28 billion to a group of 30,000 cattlemen who had sued IBP in a 1996 class action. (Tyson Foods acquired IBP in 2001.) The suit claimed that IBP used contracts with a select few beef producers to create a supply of cattle that the company could tap into when beef prices were high. An Auburn University economist testified that the contracts had driven down cattle prices 5.1%, or about $2.1 billion during an eight-year period. Tyson Foods, which plans to appeal the verdict, maintains that the court's findings exaggerated the actual loss to cattlemen.

Deere profits soar

In its fiscal first-quarter report, John Deere Company reports agricultural equipment sales of $3.48 billion, up 25% from the same period last year. Higher sales, higher production volumes and higher prices on equipment boosted results for the sector. The company's consumer and equipment sales rose 18% to $570 million. Sales of construction and forestry equipment increased 46% to $746 million.

GM crop acres up worldwide

For the seventh consecutive year, farmers around the world continued to plant biotech crops at a double-digit pace, with the 2003 total up 15% to 167.2 million acres, according to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The increase includes an estimated 7.41 million acres of biotech soybeans in Brazil, which approved planting of biotech soybeans for the first time in 2003. The report states that the final planted area in Brazil could be significantly higher.

Almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries, up from one-quarter last year. Six countries are responsible for 99% of the global biotech crop area, up from four countries in 2002. Brazil and South Africa joined the United States, Argentina, Canada and China as the leading growers of biotech crops. China and South Africa experienced the greatest annual increase, with both countries planting one-third more biotech acres than in 2002. In the United States, biotech crop acreage grew 10% due to gains in biotech corn and soybeans.

For a full executive summary of the report and a list of ISAAA sponsors, visit www.isaaa.org.