Corn growers beware: That biotech trait may limit your market, price

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SALEM, Ohio – The Ohio and National Corn Growers Associations are giving farmers fair warning: If your seed corn has a rootworm trait, you had better know if it’s fully approved for global use.
Some rootworm traits, like Syngenta’s Agrisure RW, isn’t fully approved around the globe, including in Japan, a major U.S. marketplace.
If the technology isn’t approved by harvest time, farmers who planted hybrids with the trait may have difficulty marketing the crop.
Restrictions. The Ohio and National Corn Growers Association’s biotechnology policy supports events that have received full regulatory approval in the United States and throughout the world.
Ohio Corn Growers Association director of programs Tadd Nicholson said the association specifically looks at whether a trait has both U.S. and Japanese approval, since Japan represents a huge marketplace for American corn.
Japan accounts for nearly 5 percent of total U.S. corn production.
When it comes to the Syngenta trait, and others not already approved in Japan, grower organizations are taking notice.
“As a unified national organization we have requested Syngenta not release hybrids containing this trait this planting season,” said OCGA President Mark Drewes.
“Growers planting the Agrisure rootworm trait should be aware that if Japanese regulatory approvals are not granted by harvest, there will be serious restrictions on the marketability of the grain.”
Nicholson said there is speculation the Japanese approval will come before harvest, but “we’re not willing to gamble on it.”
Where to find it. Agrisure Rootworm and stacks will be carried in Syngenta’s NK, Garst and Golden Harvest branded hybrids.
Other rootworm technologies, like Pioneer’s Herculex, is fully approved in the U.S. and Japan, along with several other countries around the globe, according to the company.
Rootworm is the costliest insect pest in corn and the trait has proven extremely popular among North American corn growers.
Find a market. Syngenta is requiring all growers throughout the U.S. who purchase seed with Agrisure RW to sign a stewardship and grain use marketing commitment agreement, which outlines the grain’s end use. The agreement must be signed before a farmer receives his seed.
The agreement stipulates that grain produced from Agrisure RW hybrids must be directed to domestic uses, such as livestock feed and ethanol plants that do not export DDGs.
The Ohio corn growers group strongly encourages farmers planting the trait to develop alternative marketing plans for this grain as early as possible. Every kernel of the product must be used domestically at this time, the group says.
Another market Nicholson suggests looking into is a feed mill that will accept the corn for domestic use.
OCGA is currently investigating what feed mills or elevators in Ohio are willing to take Agrisure MIR 604.
Nicholson said the state association has tracked seedcorn with the Agrisure RW trait, and only found about 150 bags within Ohio’s borders.
“It’s not a widespread problem in Ohio, but everyone who has a bag has to understand the market nuances that go with it,” Nicholson said.
Export woes. If Agrisure MIR 604 is found in export channels this fall, it has the potential to cause a major market disruption, Nicholson said.
He said Japan has a zero-tolerance policy, so even if a small amount of corn with the trait is identified in exports, Japan could completely shut down its purchases from the U.S. and drastically affect domestic pricing.
Other issue. The National Corn Growers Association is also asking farmers to pay close attention to cross-pollination issues with rootworm-treated hybrids.
The easiest way to minimize risk of cross-pollination is to plant buffers around the field, or harvest and market the first few rows of adjoining corn with the nonapproved hybrids, the association says.
Farmers should also remember to clean out planters adequately before planting other fields.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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