Monsanto, Dow get biotech corn approval

Agricultural technology took a significant leap forward on July 21 with the joint announcement from Monsanto Co. and Dow AgroSciences of SmartStax, which will reduce the refuge requirements currently in place for multiple stacked corn insect genes.

Reducing the refuge from 15 to five percent, combined with advanced insect and weed control, is expected to increase corn yields by 5-10 percent compared to current technology, according to company spokesmen.

In field tests, SmartStax has produced 20 percent or more yield increase in direct comparison to triple stack gene technology corn varieties. Company officials note this yield increase will vary from year to year and region to region. The yield increase, they say, will be clearly evident to growers.

SmartStax is a joint venture between Monsanto Company and Dow AgroSciences. It combines eight different genes and different modes of action for above and below ground insect control and weed and grass management for corn.

The new technology was recently granted approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Approval puts the new technology on track for availability for U.S. and Canadian farmers for the 2010 cropping season.

Both Dow and Monsanto project for the 2010 cropping season to have SmartStax technology available in all their corn varieties from all maturity groups, ranging from 80-115 day corn.

The new technology includes above ground insect protection against corn earworm, European corn borer, southwestern corn borer, sugar cane borer, fall armyworm, western beat cutworm and black cutworm.

SmartStax includes Dow’s Herculex I insect protection technology and Monsanto’s VT Pro. VT Pro includes two lepidopteran genes currently marketed in Monsanto’s Genuity corn varieties.

Weed control genes for the new technology come from Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 and Dow’s Liberty Link products. The combination provides a simpler means of weed and grass control, especially on no-till acres. It also provides an additional option for growers plagued with glyphosate resistant weeds.

Company official contend the new technology will be offered for 3 million to 4 million acres of corn in the first year and has a longer-term potential of 65 million acres in the U.S. and Canada. If 3 million to 4 million acres of corn containing the multi-stacked genes is planted, it would be the largest introduction of corn biotech seed in the history of agriculture.

Jerome Peribere, Dow AgroSciences President and CEO, says the price of the new technology will vary according to its benefit to farmers. In areas where above and below ground corn insect protection is not needed the price may be lower he says.

Peribere says the new technology may produce a renewed interest in cotton production in the Southeast, if it is approved for use on cotton and other crops by the EPA. By reducing the refuge requirements on cotton from 50 to 20 percent, significant yield improvements should be seen by growers, he adds.