Traiting up

Agriculture.com Staff 03/30/2010 @ 12:12pm

Just 15 years ago, a corn hybrid that fended off nonselective herbicides, European corn borer, corn rootworm, and other corn insects seemed to be part of every farmers' dream.

Today, such multiple stacks form the majority of corn hybrids planted. In Iowa in 2009, for example, 57% of the corn crop consisted of stacked hybrids. Meanwhile, 119 out of 131 entries in 2009 University of Illinois corn hybrid trials were triple or quad stacks.

These are combinations containing the two insect traits and one or two herbicide-tolerant traits. Herbicide-tolerant traits contain those resistant to glyphosate or glufosinate.

This year marks what so far is the ultimate in corn stacks: SmartStax. This 8-way stack from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences contains:

  • Dow AgroSciences' Herculex I and Herculex RW technologies.
  • Monsanto's YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 and YieldGard VT PRO technologies.
  • Roundup Ready and LibertyLink weed-control systems.

The insect combo of SmartStax protects against above-ground insects like European corn borer (ECB) and corn earworm, fall armyworm, western bean cutworm, and black cutworm. Below ground, the Herculex and YieldGard technologies protect against corn rootworm. The Roundup Ready and LibertyLink technologies give it two different herbicide modes of action.

"One of the biggest benefits growers will see with SmartStax is the reduction in refuge," says Brent Stauffacher, western district sales manager for Mycogen Seeds. "SmartStax allows growers in the Corn Belt to reduce the refuge (for insects) from the 20% they currently see with first-generation (insect) traits down to 5%. This will translate into higher whole-farm yields."

Other perks include reduced crop insurance premiums through the Biotechnology Endorsement program. Company officials say U.S. farmers are slated to plant SmartStax on 3 to 4 million acres in 2010.

That's just the start. Later this decade, you'll see the following traits stacked on existing stacks:

  • Drought resistance
  • Extra yield genes
  • Nitrogen efficiency
  • Cold and flood tolerance

Just 15 years ago, a corn hybrid that fended off nonselective herbicides, European corn borer, corn rootworm, and other corn insects seemed to be part of every farmers' dream.

Traits in the stacks for 2010 aren't all new. "The combinations are new, but some of the traits aren't," says Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois Extension agronomist.

"In those 2 years, there wasn't much rootworm pressure," Nafziger says.

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