Corn Refuge Tactics

April 21, 2010 07:00 PM

Pam Smith, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
The first seeds Dean Werries planted this season were refuge acres. "It means going across the end rows a bit more, but it often works best with my system to plant refuge first,” says the Chapin, Ill., grower.
He and his father, John, are adamant about staying in refuge compliance.
The Chapin, Ill., father-son team will plant close to 500 acres of DeKalb brand Genuity SmartStax hybrids this planting season. Since they farm in the Corn Belt, that means they'll only have to plant a 5% refuge to satisfy requirements for SmartStax acreage. "The refuge reduction is nice, but honestly, we are more interested in productivity gains. We've experienced some significant boosts from the stacked hybrids in the past,” Dean says.

The Werries' consider the inconvenience of planting the refuge a small price to pay for the benefit of planting pyramided traits that express Bt proteins targeted against the lepidopteran complex and corn rootworms, as well as offering multiple modes of herbicide tolerance.
"Not only do we want to do everything we can to delay resistant insect issue, but we feel it's important to comply in order to continuing using the technology. It simply is the right thing to do,” Dean says.
Unfortunately, not all growers are so conscientious. A Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) report last November indicates a trend of decreasing compliance, particularly in the stacked hybrids. You can read an Iowa State University analysis of that report here: Compliance or Complacency: Corn Producers and Bt Refuge.
University of Illinois extension entomologist Mike Gray reports that slightly fewer than 80% of the producers participating in the 2010 Corn and Soybean Classics meetings this winter indicated they planted refuges in 2009 according to guidelines.
For 2010, the 5% refuge for SmartStax continues to require a planted, structured refuge. Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta are all pursuing options that would allow the refuge hybrid to be blended into the bag, but in-the-bag concepts have yet to be approved by regulatory agencies.
"Over time, as more pyramided hybrids become commercialized, I suspect that seed mixtures (transgenic and non-transgenic seed) will form the foundation of resistance management plans,” Gray says. "This will ensure grower compliance. And with the pyramided technology in place, it should help prolong the long-term durability of Bt hybrids.”
Gray says many producers indicate they will be receptive to use of a seed blend as a refuge. A key concern regarding this approach is the potential for significant insect injury to non-Bt seed and the inability to rescue injured plants. However, the convenience offered via a seed mixture refuge strategy seems to "trump” this concern for most producers up to a point, he notes.
Approximately 90% of the producers Gray polled say they are willing to use a seed blend in the 2% to 5% range. However, if non-Bt seed falls within the 6% to 10% range, interest falls below 60%.
Ride along with Dean Werries to see and hear his corn planting strategy this season:

You can email Pam Smith at

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