Evofuel's improved castor seeds expected to go commercial in 2016

By Evogene Ltd. | September 16, 2013

Evogene Ltd., a plant genomics company specializing in enhancing crop productivity for the food, feed and biofuel industries, announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, Evofuel Ltd., has completed three years of successful field trials in Brazil for the development of castor bean as an alternative feedstock for production of biodiesel and other industrial uses.

The field trials, which were conducted in cooperation with SLC Agrícola S.A., one of Brazil’s largest landowners and leading agriculture businesses, demonstrated strong yield performance of Evofuel’s proprietary castor seed varieties under rain-fed conditions in northeast Brazil, and supported the use of castor seed as a competitive biodiesel feedstock. Moreover, Evofuel’s castor seed varieties have the potential of being highly attractive to the traditional industries currently using castor oil, such as the lubricant and biopolymer industries, which today face the challenge of castor oil price instability.

Based on three consecutive years of successful yield results, Evofuel expects to initiate commercialization of its proprietary castor seeds in 2016, following advanced product development and precommercial trials, which are targeted to begin next year.

The collaboration with SLC is aimed at developing castor as a rotation crop with soybeans, with the sowing of the castor seeds taking place after the harvesting of the soybeans. Being grown during a period in which rainfall levels are typically not sufficient to cultivate other crops, castor production under this model does not compete with the production of staple crops, and provides farmers with a high-value crop offering and additional revenue source.

“We are excited to complete our proof of concept stage demonstrating three years of strong yield performance,” said Assaf Oron, general manager of Evofuel. “These results are especially encouraging seeing as the past two years were relatively dry, with approximately 50 percent of the average rainfall. Despite these challenging conditions, we were able to achieve the required yield performance, positioning our castor varieties as an attractive and scalable crop, especially for rotation in areas where the soybean counter season leaves local farmers with limited cultivation options.”

“Castor is a high-value crop that we believe has the potential to diversify our crop portfolio and crop rotation systems, especially in the Cerrado region in Brazil, the county's agriculture frontier," said Aurélio Pavinato, CEO of SLC Agrícola.

SLC Agrícola operates more than 280,000 hectares (691,895 acres) of soybean, corn and cotton across Brazil. Evofuel estimates that under the soybean rotation model, and leveraging SLC’s footprint, the potential land area in Brazil for economically viable commercial production of castor seeds is more than 5 million hectares.

Evofuel is engaged in the development and commercialization of high yielding castor bean seeds as a cost competitive, sustainable, second-generation feedstock for the growing biofuel market. It has built its castor genetic assets based on a broad collection of more than 300 castor lines from more than 40 different geographic and climatic regions. As part of its development process, Evofuel applies advanced breeding methods utilizing cutting-edge plant genomics capabilities together with agro-technique expertise to enable efficient and sustainable large scale production of castor bean. Initially established in 2007 as a division within Evogene Ltd., Evofuel was spun out as a wholly owned subsidiary in 2012.

Evogene is a plant genomics company, utilizing a proprietary integrated technology infrastructure to enhance seed traits underlying crop productivity. Evogene offers a complete solution for crop productivity improvement through biotechnology and advanced breeding using a unique technology infrastructure that is based on deep scientific understandings of plant genomics and proprietary computational capabilities. The company has strategic collaborations with world-leading agricultural companies to develop improved seed traits in relation to yield and a-biotic stress (such as tolerance to drought), and biotic stress (such as resistance to disease), in key crops as corn, soybean, wheat and rice. In addition, Evogene has earlier stage operations in agriculture chemicals, and seeds focusing on second-generation feedstock for biodiesel. The company's headquarters are located in Rehovot, Israel, and the company is listed for trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

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