Biotech seed producer and agricultural sciences firm Monsanto Company (MON) has returned outsized gains to investors over its life as a public company. In fact, the company's stock has returned 640% in the last decade -- walloping the S&P 500 by more than 580% in that time. What has driven shares higher? While we can point to swelling top and bottom lines as the primary reason, we shouldn't forget that pipeline success ultimately determines growth. Can a company as mature as Monsanto continue to innovate and deliver growth in the years ahead?

Growth opportunities abound
First, let's note that investors shouldn't expect another 640% gain (not anytime soon, anyway) from a company sporting a market cap of $57 billion. That doesn't mean Monsanto is done growing, however. Consider that a record 29 of more than 70 pipeline projects advanced in development the last year. The progress included more than 10 products from the company's new technology platform and five products that were successfully commercialized. Here's how the highlights break down by platform:

Technology Platform

Pipeline Advancements

Highlighted Products



Intacta RR2 PRO soybeans, next-gen SmartStax PRO corn



Enhanced resistance to Gray Lead Spot (corn), Resistance to Bacterial Wilt (tomatoes), Downy Mildew (lettuce)



BioDirect Bee Health

Integrated Farming Systems


Weather-enhanced soybeans and corn

Source: Monsanto.

While the progress and future growth opportunities are astounding, I'll bet many readers aren't aware that Monsanto has multiple platforms. For instance, the company's breeding platform uses traditional, non-genetically modifying (well, even breeding is genetically modifying) techniques to introduce disease resistance to various crop varieties. In fact, Monsanto's breeding platform is the most advanced in the industry. Remember that the next time you tout "natural" agricultural methods.

Meanwhile, the biologicals platform works to create products that improve crop health and productivity. Monsanto is just beginning to research the technology, but it hasn't been shy about investing in it. In 2011, it made a highly criticized acquisition of bee health biotech company Beeologics, which has become an integral part of the platform today. Ironically, the company most (mistakenly) associated with colony collapse disorder, or CCD, in honey bees could become their savior. (Product candidates under development for supporting bee health are using RNAi to target two viruses that commonly target honey bees, which are the scientifically proven culprits of CCD.)

More recently, Monsanto partnered with leading industrial enzymes and microbial products company Novozymes to bolster future development of agricultural biologicals. It also made a generous $300 million upfront payment to solidify the game-changing alliance and acknowledge Novozyme's leading technology. How big is the platform's potential? The global opportunity for microbial solutions in agricultural applications stood at $2.3 billion and has grown at a mid-teen annual clip, although its a nascent field that is just beginning to grow in importance. Early adopters such as Monsanto and Novozymes stand to reap the greatest rewards.

Foolish bottom line
Monsanto has largely relied on its industry-leading biotechnology platform in the last decade. While the platform will continue to make substantial contributions going forward, the company is making significant progress with multiple complementary platforms that have amazing growth potential. Investors cannot expect every product candidate to be successfully commercialized, but there's no reason to believe long-term growth is anywhere near finished. Monsanto expects mid-to-high teens operational growth and, quite frankly, I can't disagree.