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Syngenta Speaks Out About Viptera, Duracade Launch

Corn insects aren’t the only foes that Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera and Duracade insect-resistant traits are squaring off against. Other opponents include China, Cargill, and a number of Midwestern farmers who are suing Syngenta in a class-action lawsuit. 

The flap is caused over China’s refusal to accept corn and dried distillers grains (DDGs) derived from corn with these traits. Plaintiffs like Cargill and the farmers blame Syngenta for launching Viptera without receiving import approvals from China. 

Syngenta told its side of the story this week at its agricultural media summit in Washington, D.C.

Viptera

Agrisure Viptera is Syngenta’s traited product for controlling lepidopteron pests like European corn borer. It’s in compliance with all U.S. legal and regulatory bodies, and has had stakeholder support from groups like the National Corn Growers Association, says Chuck Lee, head of marketing for Syngenta.

“It is a safe and effective product, adds value, and growers have a right to plant it,” says Lee. “We think the lawsuits are without merit.” 

Cargill’s concern is that Syngenta launched the product before import approval was obtained in China. This action negatively impacted U.S. grain and grain product export markets, Cargill officials say. It cites a 2014 study by the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) that U.S. exporters and farmers lost up to an estimated $2.9 billion because of the uncertain trade environment the Viptera launch created. 

How It Started

China had initially imported Viptera corn for two years. Matters changed in 2013, though, when China rejected corn containing the MIR 162 (Viptera) trait, and dried distillers grains derived from Viptera corn.

Lee say that was the same year China harvested a record domestic corn crop.

“We think Viptera was probably a trait in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he says. “They (China) had a glut of corn, and an unapproved trait (Viptera), and they probably leveraged it to their advantage. Only then did we see them reject Viptera.” 

That didn’t apply to Latin American Viptera corn, as China continued to import it, says Lee.

“China is important, but not a significantly large (corn) market,” says Lee. “ In the last five years, China has imported less than 1% of the U.S. corn crop of whole kernel corn. When you add DDGs, (dried distillers grains) that brings it up to 2%. Not that that is insignificant, but in the big picture, it is not a lot of corn.”

Syngenta launch critics fear China’s action could slice the growth of future Chinese corn exports, though. NFGA cited USDA’s forecasts earlier this year that Chinese corn imports will increase from 2012’s 2.7 million metric tons to 22 million metric tons by 2023. 

“With a stroke of a pen, China could resolve this issue,” says Lee. So far, it hasn’t. 

Duracade

Viptera’s difficulties in cracking the Chinese market are also impacting the marketing of Syngenta’s Duracade corn rootworm-resistant trait. 

In some cases, corn rootworm has resisted rootworm-resistant traits, mainly in continuous corn where the same type of rootworm-resistant trait has been continually used. Agrisure Duracade can help break this cycle, as its new action mode is a protein called eCry3.1Ab. It binds differently in the gut of target insects like corn rootworm than other rootworm traits now on the market. 

It debuted with a limited 2014 launch. Syngenta aimed it at areas where corn rootworm pressure tends to be high, such as Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, southern South Dakota, northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the northern two-thirds of Indiana. Import approval has been granted in Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Key import approvals missing, though, include China and the European Union (EU). 

However, Syngenta opted to launch Duracade this year. Syngenta is working with Gavilon, an Omaha, Nebraska, firm, to direct Duracade corn into grain market channels where Duracade is approved.

During this growing season, Gavilon kept in contact via phone and e-mail with the 2,500 farmers growing 24.5 million bushels of Agrisure Duracade. Gavilon officials say farmer surveys indicate around 54% of Duracade is destined for on-farm, feedlot, or feed mill use, with another 21% destined for cooperating elevator delivery. Thirteen percent of growers were undecided where to go with it at the time of the survey. The remainder is destined for ethanol plants, multiple destinations, or other market or feed options.  

This year, Gavilon mailed Duracade growers a brightly colored bill identifying their corn as Duracade and accompanying paperwork. Farmers will then sign and return the paperwork to the company, stating the grain has been properly delivered.

Gavilon identified 1,200 end users for Duracade out of 2,000 initially contacted.  “If a grower cannot find a market, Gavilon will pick up grain from him (the Duracade grower) and find an elevator,” says Greg Konsor, vice president and general manager for Gavilon. “Even if an elevator is out of the way, we will ship it for him.” 

As with Viptera, concern regarding future negative impact exists from export disruptions keyed by the Duracade launch. NFGA’s analysis earlier this year estimated the potential net economic loss to U.S. corn, dried distiller grains and soybean sectors due to the commercial launch of Duracade could range from $1.2 billion to $3.4 billion. 

However, Lee notes this year’s arrangement with Gavilon has shown grain can be segregated into different market channels. It’s not foolproof, but it is a way to reduce the risk of contamination of grain with transgenic traits into unapproved markets, he says. This may become more common if the trend of split transgenic trait approvals by U.S. grain export customers continues.

“We think of it as a strength in our ability to manage the grain supply in a different way,” says Lee. 

Bigger Than Viptera

Syngenta plans to continue the marketing of both Viptera and Duracade for 2015 and beyond. 

“The issue is bigger than Viptera and China,” says Lee. “If a technology is proven safe, import approvals should be granted and not used as a trade weapon. We believe in the end that it is safe technology, and farmers should have right to plant and market it.”

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