America's row crop producers face a dizzying array of options this winter in deciding what to plant next spring. One thing however is certain: U.S farmers continue to embrace genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, at breakneck pace.
According to USDA, biotech seeds accounted for 86 percent of U.S. corn planted in 2009, 91 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the cotton.
Ultimately, a person's viewpoint on the pitfalls -- or potential -- of GMOs often is heavily influenced by personal bias. Supporters say biotech seeds reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides in the nation's farmland, while increasing yields. Critics, however, say biotech seeds also yield pesticide-resistant plants and pose a cross-pollination hazard to other, non-gmo crops.
And while some complain that the "biotech genie" is out of the bottle, the world's leading seed corn producer says, when it comes to simplified spring planting, the solution is "in the bag." David Miller explains.
The promise of genetically modified seed technology has always been increased food production on the same amount of acres with a reduction in the use of herbicides and pesticides.
But the technology comes with rules. The Environmental Protection Agency requires precautions be taken to prevent the breeding of bugs resistant to the pesticides in the plants. When farmers use genetically modified, or GM, varieties designed to resist corn borers and corn rootworms, a refuge must be planted in a hybrid that does not contain the same traits. And the refuge must be either in the field containing the GM seeds or in an adjacent field.
That was until this year when seed corn giant Pioneer Hi-Bred -- a national underwriter of Market to Market --introduced Optimum AcreMax 1. The biotech package was released in April, too late for the 2010 planting season. The innovative product is being billed as "the industry's first in-the-bag corn rootworm refuge solution."
Bill Belzer, Senior Marketing Manager/Pioneer: "...it's really exciting to be first in the market place. We're the first one with integrated refuge solution and -- and for Pioneer with our long history to be able to deliver innovation to the marketplace and not just innovation but simplicity -- the things that help our growers succeed we just couldn't be more pleased to offer this to help growers get more out of every acre, make sure they get the right product on the right acre,
and, again, simplify how they actually deploy the refuge so they stay in compliance at the same time really maximize their productivity."
The refuge-in-the-bag protection, or RIB, provided by Optimum AcreMax 1 works by combining two types of Pioneer's genetically modified seeds in a specialized mixture. This is done by loading the bag in a ratio of 90 percent Herculex XTRA -- which provides both corn rootworm and corn borer protection -- and 10 percent Herculex 1 -- which provides only corn borer protection. The ratio of the two different seeds is the secret weapon that gives Optimum AcreMax 1, or OAM1, its ability to satisfy the EPA's corn rootworm refuge rule. Farmers are still required to plant a refuge equal to 20 percent of their acres where a GM corn borer product is used. The advantage of using Pioneer's RIB is the refuge can be located up to a half mile away.3545-Optimum-AcreMax-6
To comply with the EPA's refuge regulations, the company recommends the use of Optimum AcreMax RW. This product gives these acres protection against corn rootworms while fulfilling the appropriate federal obligations for planting a corn borer refuge.
Laura Higgins is one of Pioneer's entomologists who worked on development of Optimum AcreMax 1.
Laura Higgins, Entomologist/Pioneer: "...it's still really, really exciting and really, really important because the insects have a tendency not to go way and, you know, we always will have to be working really, really hard to stay a step ahead, and so innovations like AcreMax where we can make sure the refuge gets out in the field, make it easier for our growers, and most importantly get refuge out there where it can do its job to help delay the development of resistance is super exciting for us entomologists anyway."
Field trials conducted with OAM 1 have shown comparable yields to other Pioneer corn products. And both of the GM varieties mixed in the bag contain traits designed to allow the use of Round-Up and Liberty herbicides.
All of the Optimum AcreMax family is approved for use in the major trading markets around the world and approval of sales in the European Union is pending.
A division of DuPont, Pioneer is the global leader in seed corn sales.
Pioneer officials see Optimum AcreMax 1 as a tool that will help streamline planting. With the protection provided by the new product, farmers will be able to plant more acres without having to stop and clean out their equipment before planting a refuge.
Pioneer is not alone in working on a "refuge-in-the- bag" concept. Monsanto, a GM seed giant in its own right, also is developing a RIB product.
But for Pioneer, Optimum AcreMax 1 is only the beginning. Waiting in the wings is a RIB product requiring no separate refuge for corn borers or corn rootworms. By the 2012 crop season, Pioneer plans to introduce Optimum AcreMax 2. OAM2 will allow farmers to pour the product in the planter and go because the biotech seeds satisfy all EPA refuge obligations.
Bill Belzer, Senior Marketing Manager/Pioneer: "in that next step of simplicity you'll be able to get to a single bag refuge and really have ultimate simplicity and we plan to have two products in that regard one for above ground markets where growers only need above ground protection and one for above and below ground protection where corn rootworm is more of an issue. And so to that end we're delivering choice and get the right product to the right acre even with those single bag solutions."
For Market to Market, I'm David Miller.