- Author: Brad Hanson
I recently ran across a report published by Crop Life International (a federation of plant science industry companies) on the cost of getting a "biotech" crop variety to market. I've attached the "fact sheet" to the bottom of this post and you can access the whole 24 page report at this link: http://www.croplife.org/PhillipsMcDougallStudy
Technological advances in our understanding and ability to manipulate crop plant genetics (through either GM or non-GM tactics) have had a profound impact on agricultural productivity and adaptibility to new and changing environments. While the study didn't distinguish among traits specifically related to weed control, I thought the data from this survey presents an interesting look into the investment (financial and time) involved in developing this kind of technology. Plant science and plant genetics is also very clearly "big business" (which may be my personal understatment of the day).
Key findings in this report indicated that the cost of discovery, development, and authorization of a new biotech trait costs about $136 million and just over 13 years of effort. About half of this cost is during the Development phase, while the other half is split almost evenly between the "Discovery" and "Regulatory" phases of the process.
Regardless of your position on GM crops, I think this report provides an interesting insight into the science and business aspects of modern agriculture. Just like any other business (ag or non-ag), plant science companies invest resources into the development of new products and technologies before the new product makes a single cent in return. If they produce something of value to the market, the after-the-fact sales provide return on investment and fuel the next round of innovation. This is true whether your industry produces crop seeds and genetics, computer software or smart phones, or automobiles - success is driven by innovation, meeting a market need, maintaining customers, and protecting intellectual property.