Part 6 of our "Resistance Reality" story, featured in the Farm Journal 2012 Seed Guide. Click here to start reading from the beginning.
The entomologists who wrote to EPA contend that farmers have little choice whether to use the Bt technology if they want to plant the hybrids with the highest yield potential possible.
Gray adds that federal incentives have lowered the cost of crop insurance for growers who use Bt corn, which reinforced farmers’ decisions to use hybrids with the trait.
In their letter, the scientists write, "When growers do not want to use Bt corn, many report increasing difficulty in obtaining non-transgenic seed."
Gray estimates that more than 40% of farmers in some Illinois counties lack access to high-performing, non-Bt seed. While he and other scientists would like seed companies to develop more non-Bt hybrids with higher-yielding genetics, they acknowledge that economics dictate otherwise.
"It’s expensive [for companies] to provide storage for germplasm, and it’s not as profitable to produce non-Bt seed," Gray explains.
"Seed companies would face huge challenges to shift their hybrid development strategies because of current product development pipelines that favor Bt. Stopping or even reducing the development of seed corn with the Bt technology would most surely reduce the availability of high-yielding hybrids and lead to extreme price swings in the marketplace," he says.
Furthermore, technology providers contend that farmers are asking for traited products because they routinely outperform nontransgenic hybrids.
"Yield drives the hybrid selection process," says Dow’s Kaehler.
According to a 2010 Agricultural Resource Management corn survey, 77% of farmers who adopted Bt corn hybrids did so in order to increase yields.
Yet, the group of 22 entomologists says a change in development focus is imperative for the overall good of the agricultural industry.