Seed Prices Remain Flat for 2020

Even better news is that corn rootworm levels are low in many areas.

In a year of bad news followed by more bad news, there’s one bright spot. For the most part, seed companies have kept are keeping prices constant for 2020.

“Overall, we are pretty flat on prices, and some products have come down on price,” says Mitch Heisler, marketing manager for Wyffels Hybrids. Wyffels Hybrids is seeing a migration by farmers over the last four years from extensive trait packages like Smartstax to Double Pro (a trait package that resists European corn borer and tolerates a nonselective herbicide), says Heisler.

Conventional corn acres have also stayed steady during this period. Although less expensive, this option leaves farmers without a trait to protect against corn rootworm. 

“We had a 2019 study where we monitored 775 cornfields across the central Corn Belt for corn rootworm beetles,” says Heisler. “We picked up some hot spots, but they are usually areas where there has been multiple years of corn on corn. There are areas like northwest Illinois and northeast Iowa where we have seen some increased corn rootworm populations. But in other areas, we are seeing population levels low enough so you can justify going out with a Double Pro.”  

Rootworm Still Exists

Corn rootworm doesn’t have the moniker “billion-dollar bug” for nothing. No matter what control measure is thrown its way—crop rotation, soil-applied insecticides, traits—it finds a way to thrwart it. Last year, scientists discovered the corn rootworm now resists all four Bt-based corn rootworm traits.

However, new technology is on the way to offering another way to manage corn rootworm. “RNA interference (RNAi) is a phenomena that occurs in most organisms as a way of controlling gene regulation,” says Bob Reiter, who heads research and development for Bayer CropScience. 

“What it allows us do is actually turn off an essential gene in a very targeted way. In this case, what we’re doing is we’re having the plant express small RNA molecules, which then are taken up by the corn rootworm. They actually use the RNA machinery within the corn rootworm to turn off an essential gene in the corn rootworm itself. The result of that is that the corn rootworm then dies.

“It is a highly specific, highly targeted, completely novel mode of action compared to the traditional modes of action that are on the market today, which are based on Bt proteins,” says Reiter. “It’s a very phenomenal product and very complimentary technology to what we have today in the market space.”

This rootworm technology is set to debut early next decade in SmartStax Pro. This trait package will feature the RNAi  technology in addition to the two Bt proteins now present (Cry3Bb1 and Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1) in SmartStax.

READ MORE: 20 Strategies That Farmers Can Use In 2020

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