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April 27, 2012 08:12 PM
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New seed corn products tout compliance with more convenience

Mark Hanna says he no longer worries whether he has calculated the correct number of refuge acres in his corn fields. The north central Iowa farmer is planting up to eight corn hybrids this spring, all refuge-in-a-bag (RIB) products that control both above- and belowground insects. Each bag contains a blend of 95% traited and 5% nontraited seed.

That means Hanna does not have to plant a separate, structured refuge in order to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. He just loads his planter with one product and plants.

"When you’re trying to plant 300 to 400 acres a day, this really simplifies your life," says Hanna, who farms corn-on-corn acreage with sons Andrew and Philip near Forest City.

This year marks the first season of full commercialization of the RIB products, introduced by Dow Agro-Sciences and Monsanto. The Dow products are sold under the brand Refuge Advanced powered by SmartStax, while the Monsanto brand is Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete. Farmers needing aboveground insect protection can also plant Monsanto’s Genuity VT Double PRO RIB Complete for the first time this season.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont company, offers farmers two new, single-bag refuge products this season: Optimum AcreMax for aboveground insect protection and Optimum AcreMax Xtra for above- and belowground insect control. Optimum AcreMax Xtra is a blend of 90% traited seed and 10% nontraited seed that utilizes only the Herculex RW trait belowground.

The single-bag refuge products mark a milestone in the seed industry, which is rapidly developing products with refuge requirements that are simpler and easier to adopt than those introduced in the late 1990s.

"We are taking compliance worries off of growers’ shoulders to simplify planning and planting and to ensure proper stewardship of the technology," says Cole Hansen, Dow AgroSciences’ U.S. seeds traits marketing manager.

In their single-bag refuge products, the companies have matched the weight and size of the refuge seed to the hybrid traited seed to ensure even distribution in the field during the planting process. Dow blends the refuge through each bag of its seed. Monsanto’s process depends on additional mixing as the seed is moved from bag or seed pack to the planter and field. Monsanto says this method results in even dispersal to avoid refuge "hot spots." Ultimately, farmers should see uniform fields of corn this summer in plant height, leaf style and maturity.

Fast-forward. The seed industry will introduce several new technologies in the next few years.
Syngenta is awaiting full registration of its new RIB-style products. Agrisure Viptera 3220 E-Z Refuge, a trait package targeted for the South, provides two modes of action to control lepidoptera and European and southwestern corn borer. Agrisure 3122 E-Z Refuge is a trait package targeted for the Midwest Corn Belt only, says Mike Saxton, agronomic service representative. EPA has not yet approved its 5% RIB, so Syngenta recommends that farmers continue to plant the 5% structured refuge in their fields.

Syngenta also has a new trait, Agrisure Duracade, which, when deregulated, will provide control of corn rootworms as well as help manage insect resistance.

DuPont has received EPA approval to market its Pioneer Optimum AcreMax XTreme hybrids for the 2013 season, says Josh St. Peters, corn marketing manager. The RIB-style products contain 95% traited hybrid and 5% nontraited hybrid that will provide above- and belowground protection against insects in corn, including European corn borer and corn rootworm. Optimum AcreMax XTreme also includes herbicide tolerance.

Monsanto is developing new seed technology that combines a Bt protein and RNA interference (RNAi) to kill corn rootworms. RNAi is a process that cells use to reduce or silence the activity of specific genes.

"Through the use of RNAi, we’re able to target and control rootworms with a novel mode of action that’s outside of the Bt class of proteins that have been used in all other insect-control products," says Danielle Stuart, Monsanto public affairs specialist.

Taking the Bite Out of Rootworm

Farmers aren’t the only ones who enjoy mild winters. Insects like them too, and corn growers may see more insects as a result of the temperate winter and higher-than-average temperatures this spring.

Western corn rootworm in particular is top-of-mind this year. In two years, the wide-spread suspected rootworm damage appeared in 2011 in parts of Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. This prompted a group of U.S. entomologists to recently call for more  EPA and university joint research because all available evidence points to a field-evolved resistance of rootworms to the Bt protein.

Farmers concerned about how well their trait package will withstand corn rootworm pressure this season might consider using a soil insecticide.

Scouting for rootworm pressure this summer can also help farmers protect the Bt technology in their hybrids and ensure its efficacy for years to come.

"Scouting for corn rootworm is an important best management practice," says Luke Samuel, corn insect traits product development manager for Monsanto. Corn rootworm eggs begin to hatch after about 500 to 700 growing degree days. By approximately June 15 in the central Midwest, the pest may be noticeable in fields.

"After you hit that 500 to 700 growing degree day window, dig up some corn plants and evaluate the roots to get a handle on what type of corn rootworm pressure your fields are under," Samuel advises.

On nontraited corn plants, farmers may see leaf feeding by aboveground insects and/or root pruning by belowground insects. This is a good thing; it means the Bt technology in the hybrid is working properly.

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