TUCSON (CN) — As Monsanto and Bayer announce a $66 billion merger that will produce the world’s biggest seed and pesticide conglomerate, Monsanto, the controversial biotech giant, is planning to break ground outside of Tucson for a greenhouse to grow seed corn.
Arizona’s mild climate is a big reason why the company chose it for its corn project, Monsanto spokeswoman Christi Dixon said.
“It’s something that will allow us to do a lot more seed development work year-round,” she added.
Dixon wouldn’t say what impact, if any, Monsanto’s merger with Bayer might have on the project. If consummated and approved by antitrust regulators, Bayer’s $66 billion acquisition of Monsanto, for $128 a share, would produce the world’s biggest seeds and pesticide company. The $66 billion evaluation includes assumption of $10 billion in debt.
Monsanto’s planned 7-acre greenhouse in unincorporated Pima County would produce conventional and genetically modified corn, using less water, pesticides and fertilizers, Dixon said.
“At approximately one-seventh the size of a typical field, the greenhouse will help reduce our environmental footprint,” she said.
When up and running, the greenhouse project will employ 40 to 60 people. Dixon said it is too early to say whether the workers will be Arizonans or transfers.
Though the greenhouse will be Monsanto’s first in Arizona, the company has cotton seed processing facilities in the central and southwest part of the state. It also has close research ties with scientists from the University of Arizona in Tucson, the seat of Pima County.
County officials would not discuss what economic incentives, if any, they may be considering for the St. Louis-based company, though local reports have hinted that negotiations are under way.
“Any company that is looking to expand here that is looking for incentives, we’re happy to meet with them or meet with their representatives and talk with them about it,” said Pima County spokesman Mark Evans.
“If it’s something we can do and we apply a cost-benefit analysis, making sure that the community gets the benefit out of it … the company is also incentivized to locate here,” he said.
Dixon said the greenhouse is part of Monsanto’s work to provide farmers “with tools that help them have better harvests.”
Monsanto’s role as the world’s leader in genetic modification of seeds has made it one of the most vilified companies around.
In public surveys, Monsanto consistently is named as one of the world’s most-hated corporations. In dozens of countries, an annual march against Monsanto draws massive numbers of participants who oppose the company’s work with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Although regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have given their blessing to genetically modified food, only 37 percent of Americans believe it is safe to eat, according to a 2015 Pew Research study.
Doug Gurian-Sherman, director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., is a Monsanto critic who questions the value of engineered corn, soybeans and other crops.
He cited a report released in May by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that engineered crops were safe for human consumption, but said there was no evidence of increased yields since their introduction about two decades ago.
“There’s no real evidence that the commonly made claim that engineered crops improve productivity or could feed the world,” Gurian-Sherman said. “That’s one of the main supposed benefits of both corn and soybean, both the insect-tolerant and herbicide-resistant traits that are in those crops.”
Some critics say that the herbicide-resistant crops encourage pesticide and herbicide use, with harmful environmental effects.
Gurian-Sherman said that companies such as Monsanto limit the genetic diversity in corn, which restricts natural crop variety that can adapt to different environmental conditions and build resilience against pests.
University of Arizona agricultural researcher Yves Carriere has a more positive view of Monsanto, which he said produces seeds that are useful for farmers.
“To me, biotech companies are no different than other companies that work in agriculture,” he said.
The entomology professor said he’s not surprised that Monsanto wants to grow corn seeds in the Grand Canyon State.
“Arizona has the perfect climate for seeds,” he said. “I think they see it as a practical investment.”
He also understands why Pima County officials may view potential incentives to the company as a good investment.
Gurian-Sherman does not.
“Monsanto in some quarters has not been considered a good public citizen, so rewarding a company that has a questionable track record from a public perspective is another question,” Gurian-Sherman said.
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