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Bt corn refuge requirements tightened

EPA mandates new Bt refuge requirements. Vast majority of Bt-corn farmers found to be in compliance. Online refuge "calculator" available to farmers.

Last fall, in an attempt to tighten up Bt corn refuge requirements and oversight, the EPA imposed new refuge regulations. According to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), those requirements are:

  • On-farm refuge compliance assessments will be conducted by an independent third-party and will be focused on: areas of highest risk of insect pest resistance development; and, growers who did not buy sufficient refuge seed from the Bt corn registrant.
  • Growers out of compliance with the refuge requirements now have a higher probability of losing access to Bt corn if compliance is not established and maintained. Such compliance will be checked more frequently by the Bt corn registrants.
  • Seed bag tags will better depict refuge size requirements

Southwest Farm Press recently spoke with Chad Blindauer, a South Dakota farmer and chairman of NCGA’s Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team about the Bt requirements. Among his comments:

First, any comment on the deregulation of corn amylase?

We’re very encouraged by that and have been waiting for (the deregulation) for quite some time. We’ve been pushing for deregulation all along.

“It’s approved in almost all major export markets. Receiving approval in the United States is a good thing. We’re excited with the approval.”

What about millers saying the amylase trait could get out and make chips soggier and whatnot?

“The amylase corn will be grown only under contract, in specific areas close to ethanol plants. It’s a closed-loop system, a good system. The chances of (the trait) getting out of that system are almost none because of how they’ve set it up.

“This is a good opportunity for a farmer who finds it a good fit.”

More on refuge compliance...

“I’m the chair of the Biotech Working Group with the NCGA. We work on this every year. It’s a never-ending process to ensure compliance. For the biotechnology end of it with these traits, it’s extremely important we follow the refuge guidelines.

“We’re always talking about this. These improvements will definitely help and we’re taking a step in the right direction.

“The numbers for 2010 (showing those complying with refuge requirements) held steady from 2009. That’s a good sign.”

On how the EPA’s call for an “independent third party” to monitor Bt-corn farms will work…

“Actually, that isn’t a new thing. Some companies were already using a third party to do their assessments. Now, though, it’s mandated that all companies use a third party” and don’t have the option of doing the assessment internally.

“And they aren’t all using the same third party – actually, some companies hire several third parties. There are different companies that contract to do this work. Some of it is regional – a certain company might cover only a certain area.”

Areas of highest risk

“Areas of highest risk of insect pests, resistant development” – has that also been in place before? 

“That’s something new. Before, there would be random assessments.

“We all know there are parts of the country with higher corn borer or rootworm pressure. It hasn’t developed yet, but if resistance was to develop it stands to reason it would in those areas with very high insect pressure. It only makes sense to target assessments in those areas.

“There are still other assessments – they aren’t all done in high-pressure insect areas.”

What about the second part of that: growers who don’t buy sufficient seed. How is that tracked? Any changes?

“There is no information sharing, but the companies know what a customer bought from them.

“What commonly happens is a customer will buy corn seed from numerous companies. Company A might have a better refuge corn but Company B might have better stacked corn. That happens regularly -- but all Company B knows is the customer didn’t buy any refuge corn from them.

“If a customer is assessed, they can say ‘Well, I bought my refuge corn from Company A.’ Then, the question is answered, the problem solved. That’s what is being checked.”

On the “higher probability of losing access to Bt corn if compliance is not established and maintained”…

“If the customer can’t show he bought refuge corn, then he cannot buy from that company any more. He needs to prove he bought refuge corn.

“If he didn’t, he’ll lose access to the technology.”

What about seed bag tags and what farmers should be looking for on those? How have those changed?

“Before, each company had their own symbols and their own way of showing requirements. Now, it’s more of a standardized tag that they’ll all be using.

“It should be much easier for the customer to understand what refuge requirements there are for a particular variety.”

One thing that can help farmers set up Bt corn fields and refuges properly is a on-line calculator available at

Blindauer said the calculator “is a fantastic tool.

“It’s a step-by-step process. It was developed so a farmer can go to the Web site, click on his state, his county. Obviously, the South’s cotton area has different refuge requirements than farther north – that’s why it has to be done geographically.

“All the company traits and products are listed. So, the farmer can go through his field sizes and plug in what products he’s planting. The calculator will then say how much refuge is needed, distance requirements and all that.

“It’s very simple and easy to use. Farmers can do this now, work it all out, and when they go to the field they’ll know exactly what to do.”

Anything else?

“We were watching the Roundup Ready alfalfa decision on full deregulation. That came down like we thought it would. The same is true of the corn amylase decision.

“We’re also looking for the final decision on Roundup Ready sugar beets. That’s an important one because it will affect future decisions. More good (biotech) products are coming.

“We’ve been saying, all along, ‘as long as the science is proven and sound in these decisions, that’s what we want.’”

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