New Eight-Gene, Insect-, Herbicide-Tolerant Corn Approved U. S., Canada

Manitoba corn growers have to wait awhile to get Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences’ new eight-gene (trait) SmartStax corn that requires only a five per cent refuge and boasts multiple “modes of action” against insect and weed pests.

“We’re definitely going to look at it (for Western Canada), but the priority for the launch in 2010 will be Eastern Canada,” Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan said in an interview July 21.

But waiting might give farmers here time to analyze whether they really need it.

John Gavloski, an entomologist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) says Manitoba farmers need to consider the economics of multi-trait corn.

SmartStax corn combines Dow AgroSciences’ Herculex Insect Protection technology with Monsanto’s second-generation above-ground insect protection, Genuity VT Triple Pro. Together they control corn earworm, European corn borer, southwestern corn borer, sugar cane borer, fall army worm, western bean cutworm and black cutworm.

“The corn rootworm, bottom line, it’s not an issue here,” said Gavloski. “It’s a non-economic problem, so growers don’t need these multiple stacked varieties to control corn rootworm and corn borer and a myriad of other things. Some years corn borer control is useful, but not in all corn, in all fields.”

SLOW BUILD

European corn borer infestations in Manitoba build over time. In years when populations are high, planting resistant corn might make sense, but Manitoba farmers tend to plant it whether there’s a threat or not, despite the higher cost, he said.

Last year 60 per cent of the grain corn planted in Manitoba was corn borer resistant.

Gavloski said only two adult rootworm beetles have ever been found in Manitoba and it’s suspected they blew in.

Last week Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences announced the SmartStax corn they developed together has been approved by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

SmartStax corn will be commercially available next spring in the U. S. (four million acres) and Eastern Canada (200,000 acres). Company officials said they are confident the genetically modified (GM) corn will be approved by major corn-importing countries before spring seeding.

“The product’s launch would represent the largest introduction of a corn biotech seed product in the history of agriculture,” the companies said in a joint news release.

INSECT CONTROL

Below-ground insect control combines Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 technology with Dow AgroSciences’ Herculex RW Insect Protection technology to control Western, Northern and Mexican corn rootworms.

According to company officials SmartStax corn will give farmers a five to 10 per cent jump in yield.

Having dual modes of action against insects will reduce the chance of those insects becoming resistant to control, Phil Miller, Monsanto’s vice-president of product management told reporters during a telephone news conference. And that’s why U. S. and Canadian regulators approved a reduction in the amount of insect-susceptible corn farmers grow beside resistant corn to five per cent from the current 20.

Both forms of insect resistance in Smart-Stax comes from Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring soil-borne organism. By planting non-Bt corn near Bt corn, the development of insect resistance is delayed as non-resistant insects mate with resistance ones.

But the Biotechnology Action Network, a coalition of Canadian groups opposed to GM crops, fears a smaller refuge will hasten insect resistance to Bt, which is applied topically to plants by organic farmers to control pests.

SmartStax corn can also be sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate) and Liberty (glufosinate) – two non-selective herbicides. Two modes of action reduces the possibility of developing herbicide-resistant weeds and provides more effective control against a broader spectrum of weeds, Miller said. (The herbicides must be applied in separate applications.)

DELAYED

Although SmartStax will be widely available in the major corn-growing areas of North America next year, Jordan said Manitoba will be the exception because the varieties grown here are much earlier maturing.

According to Jordan, SmartStax corn has additional benefits, such as higher yields due to improved germplasm.

SmartStax corn will cost more because it’s worth more to farmers, Miller said. However, he added, the price will be adjusted to reflect the value it provides growers in different growing areas, depending on the insect and weed pests they face. Presumably, the cost here will lower where corn borer is the main pest and only in some years.

“In the end the farmer needs a cost benefit and he will get it,” said Jerome Peribere, Dow AgroSciences, president and CEO. “This is revolutionary technologies, but revolutionary technologies are worth nothing if they don’t bring something to the customer.” [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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