By Elizabeth Niven
Sometimes, it seems like a long time from when a farmer orders seed to when he is ready to plant and standing in the seed shed. Trying to make planting decisions, determine what hybrids belong together and where to plant refuge for insect-protected (Bt) products gets complicated.
Traditionally, Bt corn required a structured refuge, a block or strip of crops without the Bt gene, planted within a required distance and configuration for the requisite stewardship to preserve trait durability and meet regulatory requirements. To comply, growers needed to purchase Bt corn and the appropriate amount of refuge seed and then plant accordingly. In addition, the seed dealer was required annually to audit farmers and report insect resistance management compliance, which was costly, time consuming and strained farmer relationships.
An easier planting regime means less complexity for the farmer when selecting hybrids, planning his fields, managing seed inventories and ultimately pouring seed into the planter. To provide a simple solution for farmers while protecting the durability of Bt technology, Monsanto developed the first-ever single-bag refuge solution.
It’s called Genuity® SmartStax® RIB Complete™ Corn: a blend of 95 percent Genuity® SmartStax® corn seed and 5 percent refuge (non-Bt) seed that farmers can plant across their entire field. The RIB stands for refuge in bag. This means that farmers who plant Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete products no longer need to plant a separate, structured refuge for above- or below-ground pests.
“For the farmer, this creates flexibility with planting,” said Matthew Kirkpatrick, Monsanto’s corn traits marketing manager. “And, since it is all in the bag, this increases compliance with refuge requirements, which improves the biotech trait durability. This also moves the compliance responsibility from the farmer to our manufacturing facilities. We take the responsibility to ensure that 5 percent refuge is in each bag.”
In order to get this new technology into the hands of U.S. and Canadian farmers, the Monsanto team worked through technical, legal, stewardship, manufacturing, engineering and operational challenges to obtain regulatory approval and convert nine Monsanto manufacturing plants and several contractor plants to accurately blend refuge seed. They also communicated with seed distributors and seed partners to reach farmers. Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete received EPA approval in the U.S. on April 8 and was into growers’ planters – covering about 250,000 acres in the northern corn belt – for spring planting.
“It was remarkable that we were able to get about 100,000 bags out given the short window we had to complete the task,” said Kirkpatrick.
A later approval date in Canada meant a field-scale launch in 2011 with key growers. In 2012, fifty percent of DEKALB supply is available as RIB Complete, so the transition will be rapid with Canadian growers.
“Planting Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn was a great experience,” said Steve Kelham, a farmer from Avilla, Indiana. “It goes right from the pallet straight to the planter. The time savings is just tremendous. In side-by-side comparisons, we saw a pretty significant yield advantage, anywhere from 12 to 20 bushels an acre.”
This technology enabled farmers to produce more with fewer inputs. For those farmers, this meant fewer chin-stroking moments and more convenience with the broadest insect control above ground and below ground. It also provided the right amount of refuge “in the bag,” so that farmers could reap the highest yields.
For the Monsanto team, market surveys show that RIB Complete™ is so appealing in the U.S and Canadian markets that farmers are willing to change seed brands to access it. Further, this project sets the stage for converting the entire corn-product portfolio to RIB products in the corn belt as well as building similar scientific programs and plans to bring RIB technology to Brazil, Argentina and other regions, based on its success in the U.S. and Canada.