Biotech corn is an excellent management tool, especially as major seed providers have worked hard to enhance their trait stacks. In fact, trait stacking makes one new approach - refuge-in-the-bag - possible. When the required refuge for a crop is 20% that management strategy makes little sense - nothing like 20% of your crop unprotected, interspersed in a whole field.
However, with seed bags containing multiple-mode-of-action traits in one package, regulators saw the logic of reducing the need for unprotected refuge. The theory of the refuge management strategy has always been that the non-biotech area would harbor non-resistant insects that would breed with any that might survive the biotech trait. The result would be no resistance. And during the past 15 years, we've seen little evidence that the European corn borer and other pests have developed resistance.
The other challenge was the planting of lower-yielding non-biotech crops next to those higher-yield, high-tech lines. Income-focused growers - and who isn't - saw the value of planting all their crop as biotech in hopes that neighbors might not be planting the newest trait, biotech seeds. Obviously, that's not how most did it, but just the idea that a few farmers out there were maximizing yields while ignoring resistance management strategies was a worry for the industry.
The new refuge in the bag strategies - first promoted in one form by Pioneer as Optimum AcreMax. The latest approach, announced this week, comes from both Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto. These two major players had partnered with SmartStax technology and then went to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a strategy showing that only 5% of the crop need be non-biotech to protect the technology.
EPA agreed to the lower-refuge strategy when talking about a product with such a range of biotech traits in one package. That lower-refuge approach allowed the seed companies to create their own refuge-in-the-bag approaches.
The technology received approval this week, and it appears there will be some limited quantities of the tech available for planting in some areas this year. For Monsanto, you'll be looking for Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn. For Dow AgroSciences, look for Refuge Advanced powered by SmartStax. You get to pick the isolines you like - Mycogen or the Monsanto family - but you'll eventually have a refuge-in-the-bag strategy available for a wide range of hybrids as the technology moves across both company's lines.
We'll be looking at how this technology pans out this season and how it works for your farm. Stay tuned.