Refuge Relief

July 29, 2011 10:01 AM
Refuge Relief

Integrated products bring convenience to the corn field

David Chinn would have kept planting a corn refuge until the cows came home to keep the Bt traits that protect against corn borer and corn rootworm.

Still, the Clarence, Mo., farmer can’t help but feel a sense of relief now that the days of structured refuges appear to be winding to a close. After 15 years of juggling percentages and proximities, single-bag refuge products are finally coming to the Corn Belt.

Chinn was among the first farmers with the opportunity to test Dow AgroSciences’ integrated refuge product in 2011. "It’s a relief after all those years of trying to plant refuge in the right amounts and places," he says. "Refuge acres were costing us management time and perhaps some yield."

david chinn
Clarence, Mo., farmer David Chinn says he felt relief at the introduction of single-bag refuge products. PHOTO: Lindsey Benne

Few concepts have been more anticipated than what farmers generically refer to as refuge in a bag. Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto Company, the co-developers of SmartStax, received state and import approvals for single-bag refuge at the beginning of the 2011 planting season. The practice blends 95% SmartStax and 5% of a non-Bt hybrid into a single bag. Both companies went to the field on limited acreage this past spring and expect a full product launch for the 2012 planting season. Syngenta Seeds and Pioneer Hi-Bred are also hoping to have integrated refuge products available for 2012.

Easier compliance. University of Illinois entomologist Mike Gray expects growers to embrace refuge-in-a-bag Bt hybrids with the same enthusiasm with which they welcomed herbicide-resistant crops. Gray says there was a 7% dip in the use of "stacked" hybrids in his state from 2009 to 2010. He attributes the pullback to low pest pressure and concern over rising seed costs. However, high commodity prices coupled with the convenience of no refuge requirement are expected to reverse that trend.

"Refuge compliance has been slipping to 80% in recent years," Gray notes. "Refuge in a bag is really forced compliance, and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] sees benefit in that."

A refuge built into every acre is game-changing technology, says Matt Kirkpatrick, Monsanto corn traits marketing manager.

"The transition to a totally integrated refuge won’t happen overnight, though. There will still be a lot of product in the marketplace that continues to require a structured refuge," he says.

At EPA’s urging, Bt corn registrants have unilaterally agreed to step up refuge compliance monitoring, starting in 2011. Refuge percentages will be prominently displayed on seed bags. Companies must use third party monitoring measures, and farmer offenders will face restricted access to the technology.

Southern corn growers don’t have a totally integrated refuge option just yet—although EPA has reduced the size of the structured refuge to 20% in the Cotton Belt on some hybrids that contain multiple Bt traits.

The most difficult part of the new refuge chapter might be remembering the name of each trait provider’s integrated product. Dow AgroSciences is marketing Refuge Advanced powered by SmartStax. Monsanto calls its one-bag refuge management system Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete and has another integrated product pending regulatory approval in Genuity VT Double PRO with RIB Complete.

Pioneer plans two single-bag versions upon regulatory approval: Optimum AcreMax for aboveground protection and Optimum AcreMax Xtra for above- and belowground protection. Once approved, Syngenta’s first 5% refuge-in-a-bag product will be Agrisure Viptera 3220 E-Z refuge.
Each company claims to have proprietary methods in delivering and packaging these products.

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