By Mary Welch

In two deals totaling about $4 billion, Monsanto Co. tightened its grip on the genetically engineered crop market by acquiring DeKalb Genetics Corp. and Delta & Pine Land Co. for cash and stock.

St. Louis-based Monsanto will pay $2.5 billion for the 60 percent of DeKalb Genetics, of DeKalb, Ill., it doesn't already own — $100 for each of the remaining shares, representing a 30 percent premium to Friday's closing price of $77 per DeKalb share.

In 1996, Monsanto paid $172 million for 10 percent of the company's non-publicly traded Class A voting shares and 45 percent of its non-voting Class B shares, and for the rights to collaborate on disease-resistant and herbicide-tolerate corn projects.

As part of that deal, two Monsanto representatives gained seats on DeKalb's board and Monsanto acquired the right to bid first if DeKalb decided to sell. In February, DeKalb made known it was for sale, which triggered a "bidding process," said Monsanto spokesman Gary Barton.

DeKalb is the country's second-largest grower of corn seed, with a strong presence in Latin America as well as seed interest in Europe and Southeast Asia. It offers customers Monsanto-developed traits for YieldGuard insect-protected corn and Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerant corn.

Monsanto did not release numbers for the deal involving Delta & Pine Land Co., of Scott, Miss., but said Delta shareholders would be entitled to 0.8625 shares of Monsanto's common stock in exchange for each share they hold. Monsanto owns 4.7 percent of Delta's common shares and 800,000 shares of non-voting preferred stock.

The exchange ratio may be adjusted if Monsanto's average stock price changes by 25 percent, up or down, prior to the signing.

Delta is the country's top breeder, producer and seller of cotton seed. With Monsanto, it has developed herbicide-tolerant cotton and soybeans, sold under the Roundup Ready brand, as well as pest-resistant cotton seed, called Bollgard. Last year the company had sales of $183.2 million.

"We feel very good about this acquisition," said Barton. "They will give growers access to hybrids and varietals faster and will speed up the introduction of new hybrids. We'll have a greater number of hybrids and varietals available each year. Our goal is to reduce the farmer's risk from insects and other problems while improving their yield."

Monsanto has been building an agri-biotechnology empire. Last year it paid about $1 billion for Holden's Foundation Seeds Inc., of Williamsburg, Iowa, with revenues of about $50 million. Also last year, Monsanto, which owned 55 percent of Davis, Calif.-based Calgene Inc., paid $240 million to acquire the rest.

Monsanto's stock (NYSE:MTC) closed Monday at $55.437, up $1.937. *