Dow AgroSciences staff painted the right number of plants orange that would represent 20% vs. 5% refuge in plots at the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa recently. The plots with fewer orange plants were easy to spot.
Spokespersons giving tours also held up boxes of seed, showing how much of the see-through boxes would be needed for 20% refuge vs. 5%. The refuge was represented by plain seed, vs. treated seed with a red cast making up the other portion.
Then the rep got down to business, talking about mixing 5% in the bag, so you only have to plant one bag. Both Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto, who worked together to release Smart Stax, are working on the 5% refuge in the bag concept. As of now, they have 5% refuge, but it still must be a separate hybrid planted separately.
Monsnato's Robb Fraley, chief of research, also talked to farmers and the media about what Monsanto calls RIB- refuge in a bag. To make the point, they even served ribs at a media gathering.
Part of the challenge in doing 5% refuge in a bag is getting seed mixed properly within the bag of both hybrids. Monsanto says they have refined a process that allows them to do that within their production plants. Otherwise, if too many non-GMO seeds wound up together, several seedlings in a row might be vulnerable.
"This is a major piece of technology that will make it possible to do this," Fraley says. "Each bag must be 95% with the traits and 5% without the insect traits. It can't be just close - it needs to be accurate."
The questions farmers seem to be asking most concerns yield. Will the refuge in a bag hybrids yield as well, since 5% of the plants won't possess the insect protection traits? Spokesmen for both companies asked at separate gatherings, responded that it won't be an issue. One talked about a 1 bushel difference in plots so far. The other simply said there is little or no difference compared to solid stands of hybrids with all the insect protection traits.
The refuge for Smart Stax hybrids in 2011 is 5%, but you will still need two bags. Fraley says the goal is to have refuge in a bag technology available for farmers to plant in their fields for the 2012 season.