Stagnating acreage is prompting Bt cotton seed makers to diversify into food crops such as hybrid rice, corn and vegetables, where they see a big market potential.

Companies such as Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd and Rasi Seeds (Pvt) Ltd, which currently earn a major share of their revenues from Bt cotton seeds, are aggressively charting plans to scale up exposure to food crops.

“We are diversifying into hybrid rice, corn and vegetables in a big way,” said Arvind Kapur, Chief Executive Officer, Vegetables Seed Division, Rasi Seeds.

The Rs 500-crore firm, which currently has a small exposure to hybrid rice and corn, plans to scale up its breeding programme to introduce more hybrids. Rasi Seeds has partnered with Israeli firm, Evogene Ltd, to develop yield-enhancing and drought-tolerant rice varieties.

Vegetable hybrids

Besides, Rasi has started breeding programmes in some 21 different vegetables to launch hybrids.

“We have enrolled 22 breeders to give a major push to our vegetables seeds business,” Kapur said. Similarly, the over Rs 1,000-crore Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd (NSL) is planning to scale up its presence in food crops such as corn, rice and vegetables.

Cotton currently accounts for around 80 per cent of NSL’s revenues. “In five years from now, we expect cotton seeds to contribute 60-65 per cent of our business,” said Ramesh Viswanathan, Chief Operating Officer, NSL.

Revenues from Bt cotton seeds have shrunk for NSL by about five per cent and the company attributed it to the decline in commodity prices.

Vegetable seed

“Vegetables seed is the future growth engine,” said M. Prabhakar Rao, Chairman, NSL.

Corn seed

The company has doubled its corn seed business from 5 to 10 per cent of its revenues in the past two years.

The hybrid rice currently accounts for six per cent of its revenues and vegetables about three per cent.

Hybrid rice

Hybrid rice is also attracting the interest of both large multinationals such as Syngenta and smaller players such as the Bangalore-based Indo American Hybrid Seeds (India) Pvt Ltd. Currently, hybrid rice is planted in only about five per cent of the total rice acreage of 44 million ha, presenting a huge potential for the seed makers.

Indo American, which has a couple of hybrid rice varieties, is looking to introduce some three to four more, said Arthur Santosh Attavar, Managing Director. The company also expects to launch a Bt cotton variety in the kharif 2013 season.

Syngenta India is also evaluating about three to four more rice hybrids, said the company’s Vice-President Rajesh Jain.

The company currently has about four hybrid varieties in the Indian market, introduced some five years earlier.

The recent acquisition of Devgen could further boost Syngenta’s portfolio in the Indian market.

(This article was published on February 11, 2013)
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