Cibus and the Future of Agriculture
−− Interview with David Sippell, Cibus Vice-President and General Manager, Canada
Jul. 11, 2018
David Sippell, Cibus Vice-President and General Manager, Canada recently shared his view on the three-year performance of Cibus and SU Canola in the global seed industry in an interview with AgroPages.
1. Cibus launched its first non-transgenic gene edited product, SU Canola, in 2015 in the United States. Now, it is expanding the business opportunity to the Canadian canola market. Could you please tell us about the development of SU Canola during these three years?
SU Canola is Cibus’ first commercial product, a non-transgenic sulfonylurea tolerant weed control crop. In its first two years on the market, SU Canola has sold out of inventory, and experienced triple digit sales growth. After it was developed, it was placed in our canola breeding program and the first variety was launched in the United States. Since then, the market in the U.S. has grown quite nicely. This year, the sales are looking exceptional, with continued strong growth expected in 2019.
Cibus is working on new innovations in canola seed including improved yield, and healthier oils and drought resistance in a range of other crops such as flax, rice and potato. Our new office in Winnipeg opened in December 2017 and began testing products in Canada, which has a variety registration system. Cibus launched SU Canola for the Canadian market in September 2017 to great demand. We are now processing orders for seeds and establishing a strong presence in the Canadian market. While we are developing traits in many crops, canola is at the forefront.
2. What is the advantage of SU Canola compared to genetically modified canola and traditional canola varieties?
SU Canola provides a cutting-edge herbicide control option for canola farmers -- this is something completely new on the market. Our innovative growing system offers new opportunities, from higher profits and lower herbicide input costs to non-GM premiums and top-of-the-line options for soybean rotations. Being a non-GMO product, it offers a more natural alternative for farmers and consumers. We develop our canola hybrids with growers in mind.
Further, there are premium contracts in partnership with Cargill that provide growers with a more cost-effective option: growers are paid at a level higher than conventional canola when they deliver the product. Cargill is working with us very closely to increase the acres as quickly as possible, and to encourage growers to deliver the products back to West Fargo where they are based. The growers are a priority for us. We ensure that the returns on investments are higher compared to other varieties.
3. Besides the herbicide resistant canola, has Cibus developed any other kind of canola varieties?
We are focused on the weed and disease-resistant aspects of our products at the moment. We also have a number of additional traits in development such as healthier oils and drought resistance. Of course, the agronomics must be suitable for farmers, otherwise they could not grow our products. Non-transgenic gene edited products are becoming available at a fast rate, and more innovation is taking place within the industry than ever before. We have a number of announcements in the pipeline.
4. In recent years, some companies are developing next generation canola traits that could generate low saturate, high oleic canola oil. For example, Cargill and Precision BioSciences teamed up to develop this kind of oil last year. What about Cibus?
Cibus is looking at a number of different traits -- both end-use traits and input traits. Both of these include special products and special technologies.
As an integral part of our company goals and product development strategy, we are developing healthier products for consumers. We have an expanding portfolio of impactful, high-value, non-transgenic crops, including flax, rice and potato and plan to develop traits in every major crop. This presents a valuable opportunity for farmers, our partners, and the marketplace as we strive to offer sustainable solutions for food insecurity and environmental issues.
5. What do you think of the gene editing regulatory policies right now, especially in Latin America and Europe?
We’re at the beginning of a really exciting period for plant breeding – advances in genomic sequencing and gene discovery, and the speed and precision of technologies like Cibus’ could see a massive shift in the rate of progress in plant breeding at exactly the time it’s needed most.
The regulatory policies are moving in the right direction. A critical step in facilitating these advances is ensuring sufficient consistency between global regulatory authorities, allowing new and improved varieties to be traded internationally. To date, the indications have been positive - regulators and governments are recognizing the value in consistency and are acknowledging the trade implications.
There appears to be a growing consensus that gene editing changes that could occur naturally and through conventional plant breeding should not be regulated any differently from other new varieties. The USDA has stated this explicitly, as has DEFRA in the UK. In South America, leading authorities from Argentina, Brazil and Chile are adopting a similar position. In the EU, the recent opinion of the Advocate General to the European Court of Justice expressed a consistent position, albeit for a sub-set of gene editing techniques (those which are forms of mutagenesis and which do not involve the use of recombinant DNA) – the formal ruling from the court is expected in late July.
6. What will be the next overseas market for Cibus after US and Canada?
We have plans to expand overseas but are still in the process of evaluating the options outside of North America to determine where our next commercial market will be. We are developing and innovating with many crops, including canola, and there could be opportunities in additional markets, such as Europe, depending on the ruling from the court and the government.
Right now, our focus is on canola in North America, but we are working with a priority focus on flax and rice. For these two crops, as well as canola, we are anticipating commercial products in the coming years. We are working on a wide range of new traits that include better disease resistance, healthier oils, and improved weed control options.
7. The year 2017 was important for gene editing in agriculture. More and more companies have joined and become new players. How does Cibus maintain its position in the global industry?
In our view, the agricultural game is really about continued innovation and efficiency. Right now, Cibus has the expertise and the intellectual property in place.
The competition has become stronger in recent years and there is more interest in gene editing. For us, it’s about maintaining a high level of innovation, making sure we stay ahead of the game, being efficient in how we operate, developing traits and getting them to market as quickly as possible. These strategies, we believe, are going to really help us in this market.
8. What’s the future vision of Cibus?
The short-term mission is to continue developing traits and delivering our canola products. We want to harness the technology for all major crops as well; of course, that is the longer-term mission, whether it is flax or rice, or any other new crops which are further down in the pipeline. We have the expertise in place to be a leading plant technology company globally. Leveraging this expertise, we aim to continue to focus on plants and new technologies and help meet the increasing demand for healthy food and disease tolerance in a sustainable way.
Please download AgroPages' latest magazine - 2018 Seed Special to see more.