Debugging Monsanto's Bug Concerns

Monsanto's (NYS: MON) genetically modified corn seeds have become the talk of the town, for not-so-pleasant reasons, unfortunately.

There's been lots of news lately about bugs hitting Monsanto's pest-resistant seeds, raising doubts in investors' minds and even putting the stock under some pressure. But is it such a big cause for concern? I don't really think so. Here's why.

What is bugging Monsanto?
Monsanto's genetically modified, pest-resistant corn seeds came to life way back in 2003. Things were smooth until reports surfaced a few months back about several acres of corn in Iowa being affected by a bug.

And now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suspects rootworms in four states to have developed tolerance to insecticides. All this has Monsanto entangled in a web of questions over its debugging technology. So what is Monsanto doing now?

Is it so serious?
Monsanto seems to be taking the EPA reviews seriously and is working with researchers to understand things. The company has also outlined some tips and recommendations for farmers for the next season. Among these is an idea to switch to Monsanto's SmartStax products, which offer higher insect protection.

I find this impressive -- the smart trick of using the bug issue to promote important products. These SmartStax products have impressed the EPA, too. This is why the EPA extended the registration of two of these products last month. This very move suggests how the entire bug concern may not be as serious as it is being projected.

What can Monsanto lose?
While Monsanto gets bugged, other players who are in the seeds and herbicides business could gain.

Peers like DuPont (NYS: DD) and Dow Chemical (NYS: DOW) , which offer similar genetically modified seeds, may take this opportunity to push their products harder. So far, DuPont's pest-resistant corn, developed with Dow, hasn't faced any issues. During its last quarter, DuPont also won approval for two new insect-protection products targeted at U.S. corn growers.

However, it isn't a death knell for Monsanto's corn seeds. One, it is the world's largest seed company. And two, demand for genetically modified feeds is growing globally, especially in emerging markets.

Global gains
Monsanto is betting big on emerging markets, especially the Latin American nations of Brazil and Argentina. In fact, corn accounted for the highest sales in Monsanto's largest segment, seeds and genomics, in its fourth quarter as demand in this region rose.

How fruitful these markets could be can also be gauged from peer Syngenta's (NYS: SYT) optimism. Last month, it received approval to sell its genetically modified corn seeds in Argentina after launching them successfully in Brazil.

A rise in global demand should keep Monsanto's top line fertile.

The Foolish bottom line
You should be concerned if a company shows signs of slowing down when faced with problems. Fortunately, that's not the case with Monsanto. In its last quarter, Monsanto's numbers beat Street estimates, in spite of the bug concern.

Monsanto's confidence in its products is evident from the 17 new blended seed corn products it has lined up next year. Monsanto might just have to buck up its research and technology to deal with all the criticism. Besides that, I do not see any problems with this four-star ranked company that should scare you away.

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At the time thisarticle was published Neha Chamaria does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Syngenta. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Monsanto. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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