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Beyond the Rows is a Monsanto Company blog focused on one of the world’s most important industries, agriculture. Monsanto employees write about Monsanto’s business, the agriculture industry, and the farmer.
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Clearing up Stories on Monsanto's South Africa Corn Crop

News and Views - CornAt the beginning of 2009, Monsanto learned that some of our farmer customers in South Africa were having issues with biotech maize they had purchased from us. What we found was that three of our white maize hybrids were experiencing a reduced pollination issue. In some cases, the variable pollination caused a reduction in the number of kernels. This issue directly impacted our customers and their ability to produce their crops.

A team of Monsanto employees traveled throughout South Africa’s corn planting areas to visit more than 400 farms, talk with farmers and determine the actual damage. Monsanto fully compensated farmers who experienced the reduction in pollination and did so before harvest. Monsanto determined that the variation in pollination resulted in an average yield reduction of around 25 percent in fields where the variable pollination occurred.

The average yield reduction was 25% in the fields affected by the pollination variation. It is not 25 % of the total corn planted of the three hybrids and certainly not 25 % of total corn plantings and most definitely not 80% as some blogs and sites are reporting.

Pollination variation is not uncommon. In this case, our seed was the primary influence, not – as has been reported – the presence of the biotech trait. In fact,our research teams confirmed that the biotechnology traits worked exactly as they should have.

In the end, all complaints were addressed and settled, and Monsanto received positive feedback on how this issue was handled (see below).

From the Digital Journal:

“And Grain-SA’s Nico Hawkins says they ‘are still support GM-technology; ‘We will support any technology which will improve production.’ He also they were ‘satisfied with Monsanto’s handling of the case,’ and said Grain-SA was ‘closely involved in the claims-adjustment methodology’ between the farmers and Monsanto.

Farmers told Rapport that Monsanto was ‘bending over backwards to try and accommodate them in solving the problem.

“It’s a very good gesture to immediately offer to compensate the farmers for losses they suffered,’ said Kobus van Coller, one of the Free State farmers who discovered that his maize cobs were practically seedless this week. “

3 Responses to "Clearing up Stories on Monsanto's South Africa Corn Crop"

  1. Huh, another Monsanto/GMO scare story that had another side to it, fancy that. It seems like every time there’s one of these stories about Monsanto floating around, you’ve always got to stop and wonder what really happened, so I usually disregard the first stories I hear about these things because of the terrible signal to noise ratio you see on anything involving GE. I assumed it was just another stack of baloney like that MON 810 & organ damage study not too long ago, or that it was an environmental factor. I didn’t know the corn actually had a problem. It’s nice to see the whole picture and know what actually happened.

    What does it mean that the seed itself was to blame? Were the plants incapable of fertilizing each other, like some sort of mistake in what lines got crossed to get the hybrid? I really should figure it out sometime but I don’t really understand the finer points of corn breeding all that well; I’m more of a fruit person. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it’ll be lost on those out to blame the biotech bogeyman. Seems as if people are already using this as another rallying cry to ban all GM crops. Genetic engineering isn’t magic, biotech crops will inevitably have good years and bad years just like anything else; I don’t get how people can say when one GM crop fails on one occasion that they’re all inherently bad.

    • Greg,

      According to our For the Record on the issue, “The male and female inbreds of these three hybrids were reversed. This process of reversing the male and female is a common practice in hybrid production. In this situation, the three hybrids produced using the same female inbred experienced variable pollen production.” I have a basic understanding of breeding techniques, but it appears that it was a common breeding practice that did not work the way it should have.

  2. GregH – I believe it was something to do with switching the male and female lines used to create the hybrid (ie rather than X + Y they did Y + X (ladies first!)) – although as to the mechanism by which this impacts pollination… I’m still rather baffled (can’t recall if the first blog posting about this – which is there in the archives somewhere – goes into more depth on this or not)


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