It was nearly 15 years ago, soon after the introduction of Bt technology in its crudest form that an environmental fringe spokesperson agreed to talk to a gathering of Farm Progress editors form across the country. Indiana Prairie Farmer is a Farm Progress publication.
I sat on the front row. He made it clear that the thought these new technologies were dangerous. He became very emphatic and livid when he talked with confidence about how he knew farmers wouldn't pay attention to the refuge requirements they were supposed to follow so they could access these technologies. And he boldly predicted that within two years, there would be so much resistance that Bt technology would be rendered useless!
Fortunately, his prediction didn't come true, partly because farmers followed the guidelines. But even now, there are those who missed the message. One farmer with a smile on his face gladly proclaimed at a seed field day in central Indiana last summer that he didn't plant any refuge, and defied anyone to try to make him do so. Fortunately, he's not the norm either.
A recent survey of producers at the 2010 Corn and Soybean Classics indicated slightly fewer than 80% of the producers there planted a refuge in 2009 according to suggested guidelines. Mike Gray, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, believes those that don't need to reconsider what they're doing.
"Refuges play a key role in delaying or preventing the development of resistant populations of key insect pests such as the European corn borer or western corn rootworm," Gray says.
"We've been fortunate that field-level resistance hasn't developed for either of these two species despite the widespread adoption of this impressive technology."
The adoption is so widespread, in fact, that nearly 60% of all corn planted in Illinois last year was a stacked hybrid.
What's bringing the refuge discussion back to center stage this spring is introduction of SmartStax hybrids from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. While the number of acres that will be planted to SmartStax is fairly low in this introductory year, the companies behind the product have already obtained permission from EPA to drop the refuge required from 20% to 5%.
However, that change is only for SmartStax in 2010. For all other hybrids, the refuge requirement in 2010 remains at 20% in the Midwest.