The Hustle

A new bean baron has planted seeds of doubt about Monsanto’s soy supremacy

As farmers flock away from Monsanto’s old seeds and towards Corteva’s new ones, the 2 companies have entered a soybean-seed arms race.


March 4, 2020

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in a $63B mega-deal in 2018, has dominated the $4B American soybean-seed market since the 1990s.

But due to a combo of weed-killer woes and competition from a new rival, Monsanto’s seed sales stagnated this year. Now the company’s caught in a seed-selling arms race. 

Big M finally got lost in the weeds 

Monsanto rose to seed-selling supremacy in the 1990s by packaging seeds and weed-killers: First, Monsanto sold a best-selling weed-killer (Roundup), and then it genetically engineered and sold seeds resistant to that very same product (“Roundup Ready” seeds). 

The model was hugely successful: Roundup sales made up a big chunk (17%, in 1997) of Monsanto’s revenue, AND supercharged sales of Monsanto’s specialized seeds.

But Monsanto’s most recent combo — a seed called Xtend and a weed-killer called dicamba — ran into trouble when the weed killer started laying waste to neighboring crops. Farmers went in search of other seeds.

And a rival planted a problem at the worst possible time

Corteva (formed last year in a Dow-DuPont mega-merger) launched a seed called the Enlist E3 just this year, and it’s expected to shoot up to 20% of soybean market share in 2020… largely because farmers are ditching Monsanto.

Now, sales of Monsanto’s seeds — which grew steadily in the past 3 years — are expected not to increase this year, for the first time since their launch.

Later this year, Monsanto plans to roll out a new seed called XtendFlex, which will work with several different weed-killers… but the seeds of this struggle have already been sown.

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