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Monsanto's head-on competitor is the giant conglomerate E. I. du Pont de Nemours ( DD).

Although the agricultural unit is but a portion of its business, DuPont is growing it rapidly.

"The competition with Monsanto is likely to be fierce," wrote Morningstar analyst Min Tang-Varner in a Jan. 26 research note. In 2010, DuPont "successfully increased its North American corn and soybean market shares, thanks to its excellent marketing and distribution channels, as well as mishaps (that set back product launches by) Monsanto's SmartStax and Roundup Ready 2 Yield. But Monsanto remains a formidable opponent, in our opinion, and the outcome of this competition is far from certain."

Du Pont is aggressively developing its agriculture and nutrition segment, which includes the development and marketing of crop protection chemicals such as insecticide, herbicide and fungicide.

"DuPont leveraged its knowledge of corn and soybeans and actively developed genetically modified seed technologies" after a 1999 merger with Pioneer, a leader in that field, Tang-Varner said, and it is developing genetically modified seeds. "We expect this segment to account for the lion's share of future growth for the company in both North America and emerging markets.

Du Pont is going strong. It recently reported 2010 earnings of $3.28 per share, up 62% from a challenging year in 2009.

Morningstar has a $42 price target on it, equal to 12 times its 2010 earnings per share. It pays a 2.99% dividend yield.

Its shares are up 9% this year and 66% over the past year. The company has a market value of $50 billion.

Analysts give it nine "buy," ratings, one "outperform" and five "holds."

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