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Corn+Soybean Digest

BLT Hybrids Eat Weeds' Lunch

When Duane Jacobs orders a BLT, he doesn't have a tasty sandwich in mind. He's buying a corn hybrid.

BLT is the moniker for seven Garst Seeds hybrids that combine genetic resistance to Lightning and Liberty herbicides, plus Bt protection against European corn borer.

Their resistance to two potent weed killers, plus corn borer protection, is what caught the eye of Jacobs, who grows 1,100 acres of corn and 200 acres of soybeans near Ashland, NE.

"In the past, we couldn't kill the weeds, particularly velvetleaf, waterhemp, sunflowers and some grasses, on one farm," he says. "They were getting resistant to everything we used. But in '99, the Liberty took care of them."

Jacobs chose not to use Lightning last year, and wasn't hit hard by corn borers. But borers are always a concern because he plants a lot of continuous corn.

"I probably have more corn borer problems than most people around here," says Jacobs.

So far available only from Garst, BLT hybrids come in maturities ranging from 90 to 112 days. The company also sells what it calls quad-stacked hybrids, which have the same resistance genes as BLTs plus resistance to gray leaf spot.

The European Union has not approved BLT hybrids yet, because their Bt event - StarLink - isn't approved. But while some growers worry about the marketability of biotech crops, Jacobs is planting more BLT hybrids. In 1999, he had 200 acres of them and they yielded as well as his conventional hybrids. So he's doubling his BLT acreage this year.

"In this area, we're not really that concerned about planting GMOs (genetically modified organisms) because we have other ways to get rid of the corn, namely feedlots and ethanol plants," says Jacobs.

Dale Farnham, Iowa State University extension corn specialist, somewhat echoes Jacobs' sentiments.

"The resistance among growers to planting GMOs seems to be loosening a little bit now in comparison to the stronger concerns I heard voiced in December and January," says Farnham. "I've talked to seed dealers who have customers now saying, 'I want to exchange my non-Bt corn for Bt corn or non-Roundup Ready for Roundup Ready.' "

While Farnham hasn't tested BLT hybrids in his yield trials yet, he offers this advice:

"If you want to try them, I suggest you plant them on a small number of acres. That gives you some diversity, but also some insurance if one hybrid fails. In general, the largest percentage - up to 75% - of your acres should be planted to some tried-and-true hybrids that have been out at least three years. Then, on about 20% of your acres, you might want to use a second-year hybrid. Finally plant 5% of your acres to a first-year hybrid."

Farnham adds: "BLT hybrids combine a number of pest management systems in a single hybrid. That opens up your options somewhat as you get the different herbicide resistances, plus there's some corn borer protection."

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