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It's in the bag

Gil Gullickson 02/14/2011 @ 3:39pm Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

You first saw it in 2010 when Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences unveiled SmartStax. This was – and still is – the king of trait stacks. It has six above- and below-ground insect traits and two herbicide-tolerant traits.

Another perk SmartStax brought was a 5% structured refuge, a cut below the standard structured 20% Corn Belt refuge for insect stacked hybrids. 

That same year, Pioneer Hi-Bred notched refuge changes upward with a limited offering of Optimum AcreMax 1 (OAM 1). The EPA approved this first refuge-in-a-bag (RIB) product in 2010.

This was just the start, though. By 2012, Pioneer plans to launch a more comprehensive refuge product, Optimum AcreMax 2 (OAM 2). Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences plan to market their SmartStax RIB products in 2012. Meanwhile, Syngenta Seeds has RIB products on tap for 2012 and 2014. These dates hinge on federal approval.

A Welcome Addition

Farmers will likely welcome RIB as much as baseball fans welcome cold beer during a sweltering July doubleheader. RIB nixes the need for a separate structured refuge because it’s already contained in the existing seed mix. All you need to do is add seed to the planter and go.

“Farmers lose time when they have to fill their planters with (refuge) seed and lay out the appropriate separate refuge,” says Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto. “The convenience refuge-in-a bag offers is a huge benefit.”

Then there’s the yield gap. Differences between refuge and Bt corn can be mind-boggling, particularly in corn plagued by corn rootworm in stressful years. In a 2006 University of Illinois (U of I) study, a 100-bushel-per-acre difference resulted between traited and untraited corn. Although that’s an exception, stressful years bring out sizable yield differences.

RIB also pleases regulators. “Recent surveys shows (refuge) compliance has been slipping in recent years, says Mike Gray, U of I Extension entomologist. “The EPA likes this approach because it ensures compliance.”

These factors lead Gray to expect lower-percentage refuges contained in a bag to predominate hybrid offerings by 2015 and 2016. “When we look ahead, we will see massive insect suppression for lots of corn insects,” he says.

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