Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DSCL bets big on hybrid rice

DSCL bets big on hybrid rice
Launches 5 new hybrids; ties up with Netherlands company.

Harish Damodaran, New Delhi, Oct 17

DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd (DSCL) is looking at hybrid rice as a major growth driver for its ‘Bioseed' (hybrid seeds) business.

“Right now, the bulk of Bioseed's revenues are from Bt cotton and corn hybrids. But in five years, we see hybrid rice contributing a bigger share”, said Mr Vikram S. Shriram, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, DSCL.

During the fiscal ended March 31, 2010, Bioseed registered a profit before interest and tax of Rs 28.40 crore (out of DSCL's Rs 204.61 crore) on net sales of Rs 202.50 crore (Rs 3,657.66 crore).

Out of Bioseed's Rs 202.5 crore topline in 2009-10, roughly Rs 75 crore is estimated to have come from cotton and another Rs 50 crore from corn seeds. But with the launch of five new hybrids in rice – ‘Mahasuri', ‘453', ‘432', ‘434' and ‘Basanti' – DSCL hopes to make a dent in this fast-growing segment as well.
Pricing controls

The domestic hybrid rice market of 18,000 tonnes (worth some Rs 250 crore at an average ex-factory price of Rs 140/kg) is dominated by Bayer Crop Science and DuPont/Pioneer, who together sell 7,500-8,000 tonnes. Other players include JK Agri-Genetics, Syngenta, Advanta, Mahyco, Nath Seeds and Bioseed, who all do 1,000-1,500 tonnes each.

At 6 kg/acre, the 18,000-tonne hybrid rice seeds produced covers about 3 million acres – a fraction of the country's total 110 million acre paddy area. “More than half of China's rice area is under hybrids. So, the growth potential is huge”, noted Mr Shriram.

This is unlike cotton, where Bt hybrids coverage has already crossed 80 per cent and “we are also facing problems from pricing controls imposed by State Governments”.

New varieties

Regarding the new launches, Dr Paresh Verma, Director (Research) at Bioseed, said that the ‘Mahasuri' rice grain quality is “fine, medium and slender of the BPT-5204/Sona Masuri type”. Moreover, the hybrid gives 20 per cent extra yield over BPT-5204, with a lower seed-to-seed duration of 130 days as against 145-150 days. It is, therefore, suitable for Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Similarly, ‘453' is a 145-day hybrid targeted for areas in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal that now cultivate high yielding varieties such as Sarju-52 and MPU-7029, while ‘432' and ‘434' are medium maturity hybrids of 130-135 days. ‘Basanti' is a basmati hybrid.

“All these hybrids give 20-25 per cent more than the existing, popular open-pollinated varieties”, Dr Verma claimed.

Specific traits

DSCL has recently tied up with Keygene, a Netherlands-based molecular breeding technology supplier, to accelerate its hybrid rice breeding programme. Under the partnership, Keygene will basically screen DSCL's extensive rice germplasm collection and develop ‘markers' for genes from this pool that code for valuable traits.

“Our focus is on specific traits, namely improved yield potential and resistance to disease (blast, bacterial leaf blight and sheath blight) and pest (brown plant hopper, white back plant hopper and gall midge). Keygene's expertise in marker assisted selection (MAS) tools will help reduce our breeding time for new hybrids by half”, explained Dr Verma.

The normal breeding process involves physical observation of plants, whereas in MAS, the trait of interest is identified through a ‘marker' or unique DNA sequence close to the underlying gene in the plant's chromosome. By scanning the chromosomes for the particular marker, it is possible to rapidly screen large number of plant samples.

Non-GM technology

“We work only in non-genetically modified (GM) technologies, where there are no costs of deregulation or societal hurdles in commercialisation. Moreover, there is huge scope for exploiting genetic variation within the same species even if the concerned plants may be wild relatives. For instance, the cultivated varieties of tomato now represent only 5 per cent of its genetic variation present in nature”, Prof Arjen J. van Tunen, CEO of Keygene N.V, pointed out.

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