Farmers looking for ways to bolster profit margins, including reducing input costs, often think about planting non-Bt corn. But there are strong reasons not to cut Bt trait technology.
Not only are Bt technologies one of the best proactive ways to protect corn yield, but the costs of managing an insect outbreak in corn without Bt protection can be greater than expected.
So, is it worth the risk of planting non-Bt corn?
“Planting corn without Bt technology may seem like a good decision on paper, but farmers should consider what that could mean for their operation during the season,” says Brad Hopkins, Dow AgroSciences biology team leader, global seed treatments and North America insect resistant traits. “Every year brings unique challenges, and Bt technology offers cost-effective yield protection if insect outbreaks occur.”
Hopkins says it is important for farmers to assess potential insect pressure and choose the appropriate Bt trait technology for their acres. In areas with a history of corn rootworm pressure, cutting back on below-ground protection can have substantial impact on yield. Even if corn rootworm is not a major concern, farmers should carefully weigh the impact of cutting above-ground Bt protection.
Planting non-Bt corn, or choosing less-than-adequate protection, comes with potential costs not included in the seed purchase. Non-Bt corn requires more time to scout and closely monitor pest infestations. If populations reach threshold levels, insecticide applications mean additional inputs and time in the field. And once corn rootworm infestations develop in fields without below-ground Bt protection, decreased yield potential is a substantial risk.
“Bt trait technology is a simple way farmers can get season-long protection against many of the primary insect pests in corn,” Hopkins says. “For the last 3 seasons, adoption of Bt trait technologies among corn growers has been around 80%, which speaks to the effectiveness and efficiency of these technologies.”
Hopkins says insect damage can quickly erode yield. An infestation of corn earworm can reduce yield by as much as 5% to 7 percent. Although their numbers have been greatly reduced due to broad adoption of Bt corn, European corn borer can still be common in areas where growers are planting non-Bt corn. Depending on the corn growth stage, a European corn borer infestation could mean a yield loss of 8.3 bushels per acre. According to Extension, if corn is priced at $3.40/bu. with average yield at 180 bu./A, Bt trait technology can provide nearly $78/A of yield protection against European corn borer.3
New for 2017, PowerCore trait technology is a pyramid of 3 Bt traits that combines three proteins for the broad-spectrum control of above-ground insects in corn. PowerCore is a great choice for farmers with low corn rootworm pressure. Iowa farmer Bob Henderson used PowerCore trait technology during the stewarded launch, and he says it provides the protection he needs against above-ground pests.
“PowerCore trait technology gives us peace of mind so that we don’t have to worry about black cutworms, corn borers or corn earworms,” Henderson says. “All those insects can take a bushel here or two bushels there, but PowerCore alleviates us from having to worry about the above-ground insect pests that attack corn during the season.”
SmartStax trait technology offers industry-leading protection of above- and below-ground insects, especially for those who have corn rootworm pressure on their farms.
“Dow AgroSciences has been a leader in the corn insect traits market beginning with the Herculex family of traits and then SmartStax trait technology,” Hopkins says. “With the introduction of PowerCore in addition to SmartStax, farmers now have a choice from Dow AgroSciences to plant the right corn Bt trait technology for their farms, depending on field history and agronomic conditions.”
PowerCore and SmartStax are available in the latest germplasm for greater yield potential. Both technologies are available for 2018 planting stacked with the Enlist corn trait, and growers can begin ordering PowerCore Enlist hybrids and SmartStax Enlist hybrids from Dow AgroSciences seed companies later this summer.
Dow AgroSciences plans to expand its corn insect trait technology portfolio in the future with SmartStax PRO, which builds on SmartStax by incorporating RNA interference (RNAi) technology, an additional and new mode of action to protect against corn rootworm. SmartStax PRO is currently in the Dow AgroSciences breeding and development program, with an expected launch by the end of the decade.