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Monsanto Sees Right Time for GMO Wheat

Six years after shelving an earlier biotech wheat product in the face of stiff market resistance, Monsanto still sees a need for circumspection, but believes building acceptance and a need for increased food production makes the wheat seed market potentially lucrative over the long term.

Currently there is no biotech wheat on the market because of consumer and food industry opposition, but Monsanto sees attitudes changing.

"I wouldn't say we're jumping in with two feet," said Claire CaJacob, Monsanto's global wheat technology lead executive, in an interview with Reuters. "But I wouldn't say we're tentative. We have traits that make more sense. It's the right time."

Several rival seed companies including Syngenta, BASF and others are also working on developing genetically modified wheat but Monsanto is the world's largest seed company and its work is closely watched worldwide.

Monsanto aims to use genetic modification to develop a higher yielding and more drought and stress-tolerant crop. This year's drought in eastern Europe that decimated the Russian wheat crop only underscores the need for improvements in wheat, said CaJacob. The drought caused U.S. wheat and European wheat futures prices to nearly double in just two months.

Monsanto's wheat research is still in the early "Phase 1" of discovery work, which translates to testing various genes to see what might work. Both U.S. wheat farmers and Australian growers are the early target market.