What you need to know about integrated insect traits
It sounds easy: Just pull the tab, empty the bag and plant. The new integrated corn refuge products coming in 2012 take all the figuring and fuss out of planting a separate structured refuge.
"It’s all about bringing convenience and refuge compliance to the corn field," explains Casey Onstot, Dow AgroSciences traits marketing manager. "However, growers should know they will see some differences from one trait platform to another."
That doesn’t necessarily mean one system is better than another—but each brand is unique.
What farmers generically refer to as refuge-in-a-bag (RIB) is a combination of non-traited corn (which serves as a refuge) and Bt insect-protected corn premixed in one bag. Refuges provide areas for insects to develop without exposure to Bt toxins in order to slow the development of resistance.
Jesse Stiefel, Monsanto Company global operations manager, says the road to RIB is filled with engineering, production and packaging challenges that include everything from growing enough refuge hybrids to designing the equipment needed to put the proper refuge percentage in the bag.
"Size of kernels, seed density and type of seed treatment had to be matched with the handling and packaging method to deliver a uniform product that plants and grows uniformly in the field," Stiefel says.
"RIB actually transfers refuge compliance from the grower to the shoulders of the seed manufacturer. Seed companies will utilize audits to make sure blending is accurate," Stiefel says.
Single-bag refuge products will not be appropriate or available for every acre this spring, nor do they fit every scenario, according to Bill Belzer, Pioneer Hi-Bred senior marketing manager for North American corn.
"There will still be standard and reduced refuge products to steward as farmers add new products to their field-by-field plans," Belzer adds.
Industry and University Experts Answer RIB Questions
Why are some products offered as RIB products and others aren’t?
RIB products are generally pyramided Bt products that contain two or more Bt toxins that work against the same pest. The toxins (Cry or VIP proteins) should have unique modes of action. Some stacked Bt hybrids contain different Bt toxins, but they target specific pests and don’t have overlapping modes of action. Other Bt hybrids have a single mode of action and require larger, separate refuge sizes. Available RIB products have been evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Which seed companies offer RIB products?
Dow AgroSciences markets Refuge Advanced powered by SmartStax. Monsanto Company sells Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete and plans to offer Genuity VT Double Pro as an integrated product upon regulatory approval. Pioneer Hi-Bred received registration for Optimum AcreMax and Optimum AcreMax Xtra. Syngenta anticipates registration of Agrisure 3122 E-Z Refuge and Agrisure Viptera 3220 E-Z Refuge for 2012 planting. Regional seed brands and licensees will also sell RIB products. RIB will not be available in cotton states.
Why should I consider a RIB product?
Convenience, increased planting speed and time savings are most often mentioned by growers. However, one main benefit is that RIB guarantees 100% refuge compliance and ultimately should help slow insect resistance. Compliance has taken on added importance as high rates of Bt corn adoption mean there is little "natural" refuge for non-Bt corn and to make up for fields that are noncompliant.
Some growers encountered less than satisfactory root protection in 2011 with Bt hybrids. In those cases, a pyramided Bt hybrid that expresses multiple proteins against corn rootworms is often recommended.
Is there any downside to planting a RIB product?
RIB products remove the ability to manage refuge plants because they are scattered throughout the field.
Will the percentage of integrated corn vary?
Yes. SmartStax hybrids and Pioneer Optimum AcreMax include a blend of 95% traited seed with an in-bag mix of 5% non-insect-traited refuge seed. However, Pioneer’s new Optimum AcreMax Xtra is a blend of 90% traited seed with 10% non-traited seed because it utilizes only the Herculex RW trait belowground.
Syngenta has applied for a 5% integrated refuge for its products.
What will RIB corn look like in the field?
Outwardly, there should be no apparent difference. Some growers may remember the days of high-oil corn, when a 10% male pollinator was added to the bag and fields had a ragged appearance. Seed companies say their goal with RIB is to avoid this scenario.
If the seed company has properly matched Bt and refuge hybrids, growers should see a uniform field of corn in plant height, leaf style and maturity. However, upon scouting, you may notice increased leaf feeding by aboveground insects and/or root pruning by belowground insects on non-traited plants. This actually means the technology is properly working.
What will RIB corn look like when I open the bag or container?
While not a requirement, most seed suppliers are using a two-seed-color system. Monsanto uses purple for refuge and green for traited corn. Pioneer is using purple for refuge and red for traited corn. Dow is coming to market with pink and red.
The seed coloring system gives growers a visual clue that the refuge is in the bag. It also gives seed manufacturers a way to color-sort leftover seed at the end of the season for germination testing.
Growers might see differences in the dispersal of the refuge seed in the bag. Dow, for example, blends the refuge through each bag. Monsanto’s process depends on additional mixing as seed is moved from bag or seed pack to planter to field. Monsanto says this method results in even dispersal to avoid refuge "hot spots."
How do the seed companies select refuge hybrids?
Monsanto and Dow match refuge hybrids based on maturity and other plant characteristics (plant height, tasselling time, etc.) to provide a uniform product in the field. In some cases, the refuge hybrid might not be a commercial variety. Pioneer has its own selection criteria, which in many cases depends on the use of genetically identical refuge hybrids.
Will RIB corn cost more?
Yes. Although there is a smaller percentage of traited corn in the bag, the cost of upgrading seed handling plants to manage RIB has been high. There is also more waste, as seed suppliers must plant enough refuge acreage to match kernel sizes and densities across geographic areas.
Are RIB hybrids accepted for export markets?
RIB products have been approved for major corn export markets. However, growers are advised to read agreements before planting and to communicate with grain buyers. At press time, certain countries, such as those in the European Union, have not completed the regulatory process. For approval status, check www.ncga.com/know-before-you-grow.
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