Corn growers protect Bt technology

For the fifth year in a row, a large majority of corn growers are adhering to insect resistance management (IRM) requirements designed for corn borer resistant Bt corn, according to an annual survey required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

More than 550 Bt corn growers in the Corn Belt and Cotton Belt were interviewed for the survey during the 2004 growing season. The results from the survey, which was conducted by an independent research firm for the Agricultural Biotechnology stewardship Technical Committee (ABSTC), highlight that more than 9 out of 10 growers, or 91 percent, met regulatory requirements for IRM refuge size, while 96 percent met refuge distance requirements.

According to NCGA President Leon Corzine, these results validate corn growers' commitment to being good stewards of Bt technology as well as the effectiveness of a comprehensive, ongoing IRM awareness effort spearheaded by NCGA, the Bt corn registrants and other key stakeholders.

Each of the four Bt corn registrants — Dow AgroSciences; Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.; Monsanto Company; and Syngenta Seeds, Inc. — are engaged in an aggressive and broad-based awareness campaign aimed at insuring that Bt corn growers understand their IRM obligations, including extensive efforts that have been undertaken by the registrants individually, as well as coordinated efforts among the registrants and other stakeholders, such as NCGA and Cooperative Extension Services. Some of these efforts include informative collateral material, a Web-based IRM training module, on-farm visits and other educational and compliance based activities.

The Compliance Assurance Program (CAP) is another factor that has contributed to IRM awareness in the growers community. Introduced by the seed industry in 2002, the CAP was developed to further inform growers about the importance of complying with IRM requirements and how to implement them on their farms. Under the CAP, growers who do not meet their IRM refuge requirements in two consecutive years can be denied access to Bt corn borer resistant corn in the third year by their Bt corn seed provider. “Our experience has been that, as the number of information resources available to growers increases, so does compliance with the requirements,” said Corzine.

“We're clearly seeing the fruits of effort and will continue to work hard to meet our industry's stewardship responsibility around the technology. The seed industry recognizes the importance of maintaining diligence in minimizing insect resistance and is committed to helping growers meet the IRM requirements. Being good stewards benefits our customers, industry and agriculture,” he continued.

Survey results indicate that seed company and one-on-one dealer interaction has been a critical factor in getting the word out to farmers. Ninety-six percent of survey participants ranked seed dealers and their seed companies as “important” sources of information — with 85 percent of growers recalling they had an individual conversation with a seed company representative.

Not only did the majority of survey respondents indicate they were aware of IRM requirements, but 96 percent of Bt corn growers said they received enough information to properly implement a refuge in 2004, which is seven percentage points higher than 2002 and 22 percentage points higher than 2001 survey results.

The IRM requirements established by the EPA, the Bt corn registrants and academics in 1999 obligate growers to plant at least a 20 percent refuge — that is, corn that does not contain a Bt gene for controlling corn borers — and insure every Bt corn field is located within one half mile of a refuge.

In certain corn/cotton areas of the South, growers are required to plant at least a 50 percent corn refuge.

These IRM refuge requirements were enacted to help minimize the probability of corn insect pests, such as the European corn borer, from developing resistance to Bt technology, enabling the technology to be used well into the future.

Corzine also credited the EPA for using both science-based as well as farmer-friendly practical information in developing refuge requirements. “The result is high compliance rates and a system that works,” he said. “After more than six years of using the technology, we have not found even one resistant corn borer in the growing fields of America.”

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