Corn growers value insect protection technology

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has announced that more than nine out of 10 growers are aware of and effectively complying with Insect Resistance Management (IRM) requirements as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These findings are based on 2005 on-farm assessments along with an independent survey conducted on behalf of the Agriculture Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee (ABSTC).

Since 1999 Bt corn registrants — Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, and Syngenta Seeds — have monitored adherence to the IRM requirements to help ensure that Bt corn borer technology remains effective against pests and is a tool readily available for all growers. This monitoring effort was expanded in 2002 with the development of the Compliance Assurance Program (CAP) which is designed to promote IRM awareness and assess implementation at the farm level.

The annual Bt corn borer IRM telephone survey, managed by an independent third party, shows the industry can have confidence that farmers are being good stewards and implementing refuge plans. In the 2005 survey 92 percent of U.S. Bt corn growers met or exceeded the minimum recommended refuge size. This level of adherence with the requirements is consistent with past results of 91 percent in 2004 and 86 percent in 2003.

In a separate program of on-farm visits, more than 94 percent of producers assessed were found to be meeting the refuge requirements. Both large and small acreage growers are meeting refuge management requirements at similar levels.

The EPA-required Bt corn refuge obligates farmers to plant at least 20 percent refuge — that is, corn that does not contain a Bt gene for controlling corn borers. In certain cotton areas of the South, growers are required to plant at least a 50 percent refuge.

All areas of the country require that the refuge is planted within one-half mile of the Bt corn. In 2005 96 percent of growers adhered to this refuge distance requirement, an improvement over past years of 93 percent in 2004 and 89 percent in 2003.

“In 2003 the National Corn Growers Association established its online Insect Resistance Management Learning Center as a way to educate producers on the importance of IRM practices,” said Martin Barbre, NCGA Biotechnology Working Group chairman. “We are pleased to see increased IRM implementation by producers, which helps ensure the Bt technology remains an available tool.”

Growers reported the NCGA and seed companies marketing Bt hybrids are the leading sources for IRM information. Most growers surveyed recall receiving an average of four pieces of IRM literature and more than three-fourths of those surveyed noted having had an individual conversation with a seed company representative or seed dealer regarding these requirements.

U.S. Bt corn adopters have voiced their commitment to manage Bt crop technologies as 92 percent were clearly aware of the IRM and refuge requirements, and support them as an important part of preserving Bt technology for the future.

“The Biotech Working Group has engaged the technology providers and worked with the EPA to make sure NCGA is providing the correct information to its producers,” Barbre said. “NCGA also works closely with its state organizations to provide information on insect resistance management. Through our online learning program, agriculture publications and printed materials, we work diligently to improve producer implementation of IRM requirements.”

An element of the on-farm assessment program that reinforces how seriously Bt technology providers regard resistance management is the potential penalties for non-compliance. Failure to properly plant and manage refuges in two crop seasons can lead to a grower’s inability to access technology for use on their farm in the third year.

Farmers visited in 2004 and found to be out of compliance came back into compliance in 2005, and have maintained access to corn borer protected Bt corn for this growing season.

For the small set of growers found to be non-compliant in 2005, Bt providers responded in accordance with the uniform industry standards developed to bring growers back into compliance. These standards outlined in the CAP include letters and additional IRM educational materials sent to growers as well as on-farm compliance assessments. Growers who repeatedly fail to adhere to IRM requirements risk losing access to the technology.

With the planting season starting across the United States, it is critical that growers and seed providers continue to focus on the effective implementation of IRM requirements. For assistance in managing Bt corn and refuge areas, growers are encouraged to seek information online at, or from their seed representative.

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