I’m Kobus Lindeque, the business lead for Africa. As some of you have heard, a few weeks ago we started hearing from some of our farmer customers about a pollen issue with three white maize hybrids grown in South Africa. In some instances, farmers experienced reduced yield. We’ve committed to reimburse the farmers for their lost yield.
This is an issue involving seed production that we will correct.
Yesterday, we posted a news release on our South Africa Monsanto Web site that provides an update. I’ve included a copy of that news release here for those who might be interested.
News release – 1 April 2009
Monsanto Announces Results of First Phase of White Maize Inquiry – Next Phase Will Determine Farmer Compensation
Johannesburg – Monsanto announced today it has completed the first phase of inquiry into a reduction in yield in three white maize hybrids caused by production of less pollen than expected.
For the past five weeks, teams of company representatives have either visited the farms or talked by phone with about 400 farmers who make up all of the growers who said they had a potential reduction in pollination. Initially, there were reports of about 120,000 hectares affected. After detailed, in-field investigations involving Monsanto and the farmers, the teams concluded about 25 percent of the total planted hectares — or roughly 75,000 hectares — were affected in some way by this variation in pollination, according to Kobus Lindeque, South Africa Area Director Monsanto Africa.
“We personally examined tens of thousands of hectares. While there is variation in pollen production, the average pollination rate in the fields is about 90 percent pollination. That means, on average, the yield reduction is about 10 percent, keeping in mind that portions of some fields were significantly more affected than that,” Lindeque said.
Research teams confirmed, as Monsanto previously announced, that the biotechnology traits provided superior weed and insect protection. They worked exactly as they should in all of the fields visited, Lindeque said.
The issue was a traditional seed production technique that was used with the hybrid breeding, he said.
“During 2007 seed production, we reversed the male and female cross of these three hybrids to maximize seed production yields,” Lindeque said. “This process of reversing the male and female is a common practice in hybrid production that existed before the development of biotechnology.”
“In this situation, the three hybrids produced using this particular female inbred have experienced variable pollen production. We have reviewed the seed production method for the three hybrids and will make the necessary changes,” he said.
Pollination variation is not uncommon and can be influenced by several factors such as weather or agronomic practices. In some cases, such as this one, seed production methods can also contribute to lower pollination, he said.
Further, Lindeque said the maize hybrids with biotechnology traits are safe. The two traits contained in the three white maize hybrids have been thoroughly tested in South Africa for genetic quality and purity of these seeds.
“These hybrids meet all of our strict quality-control standards,” Lindeque said. “The safety of maize with one or both of these biotech traits has been independently reviewed and approved by regulatory authorities in 19 countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America. They agree that these products are safe and protective of the environment.”
Maize with the YieldGard trait has been grown for a decade in South Africa. Maize with the Roundup-Ready trait has been grown for the past four years in South Africa, he said.
The next phase of the inquiry will involve meetings between Monsanto and every farmer impacted by the yield loss. Monsanto has committed to compensate farmers for any yield loss in these three hybrids. These meetings should take place over the next two months.