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Take care of traits

Each fall, you likely see those meandering paths carved by deer as they move through your fields.

Then again, those paths this fall may have been made by seed salesmen making their way to bang on your combine cab to take next year's seed orders.


Still, you're making seed decisions earlier than ever. A 2007 Successful Farming seed-buying survey shows 42% of surveyed farmers finalized seed purchase decisions in November and December. That's more than double the next highest level of 20% of the traditional January-February selection time frame.

"These conversations are taking place a lot earlier than they used to," says Ernesto Fajardo, head of U.S. Crop Production for Monsanto. "It used to be farmers would decide what to plant, shake hands (with the salesman), and be done."

That's changed. Now, seed marketing is a year-round process. It's getting more competitive, too, with hot hybrids laced with trait stacks quickly selling out.

That brings up a dilemma. Last fall, there was such a demand for certain hybrids that farmers had to sometimes take them with traits they didn't want.

"This was the first year we were all Roundup Ready corn, and it wasn't by choice," says Tom Mund of Milnor, North Dakota. "We liked a 102-day corn that was fantastic on a quarter we had, so we ordered it for planting on at least two pivots. The north country doesn't allow much for 102-day corn, but we wanted more of it. It was all we could get, and it was Roundup Ready."

Besides hiking costs for the year, planting a trait you don't want or need has more serious consequences down the road.

That's particularly true with insects, where "insurance" use of stacks is increasing, says Mike Gray, University of Illinois Extension entomologist. There are many areas of Illinois where European corn borer is not a problem. Yet, stacked hybrids with corn borer protection were in high demand this year. Using a control in low levels of a pest can place selection pressure on populations that exist.

"Look at overuse of glyphosate in soybeans. And now glyphosate use in corn is expanding rapidly," says Gray. "The result is weed resistance."

Gray is concerned the insurance use of traits could lead to increased selection pressure. That's not a shot against traits. Resistance that results due to overreliance on a control measure is just the law of the jungle.

"Development of resistant variant western corn rootworm developed due to lack of integration and overreliance on the simple corn and soybean rotation scheme," he says.

Remember that traits are just one tool to use to control weeds and insects. It's part of a strategy called Integrated Pest Management that integrates several management tools in a control strategy.

Still, it's a tough decision to pass up a trait when it appears in a hot-yielding hybrid for your farm. What to do?

Here's one idea for encouraging growers to continue IPM. This Web site introduces farmers to financial and technical resources available in USDA conservation programs. This may lead to increased adoption of IPM tactics, Gray believes. This site also provides links to state-specific financial resources available for increasing IPM adoption.

There are great traits on the market and coming down the pike. When possible, taking steps now to integrate them with other tools will ensure their future effectiveness.

Each fall, you likely see those meandering paths carved by deer as they move through your fields.

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