Evaluate Traits Carefully When Making Seed Purchase

Don't forget to ask about genetic package.

Published on: Nov 19, 2009
Technology coming from major ag chemical and seed companies is nothing short of amazing. Mosnanto and Dow AgroSciences both will offer SmartStax through various seed outlets for 2010. These hybrids were developed as a joint project between the two companies, and contain eight genes. Not only has it been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, but EPA has also granted reduction of refuge acres required from 20% to 5% for these hybrids for 2010.

The refuge requirement in the Midwest for all other hybrids containing a GMO trait remains at 20% for 2010. Refuge acres are required as part of the stewardship plan companies agreed to when seeking approval for these traits. The purpose is to allow enough natural breeding opportunities so that insects don't develop resistance, at least not as quickly, to valuable proteins contained in traited hybrid plants. The proteins are produced by genes that were introduced into that hybrid from another organism other than corn.

A whole new wave of heart-stopping technology, showcased earlier this fall at the 2009 Farm progress Show in Decatur, Ill., and featured in the October issue of Indiana Prairie farmer (see magazines online and click on the October cover) are headed toward the marketplace. Omega-three soybeans took a major step toward reality just recently when regulatory agencies approved use of the oil produced from such soybeans in cooking and testing experiments.

Meanwhile, each trait carries a price tag. Click on the November issue of Indiana Prairie farmer and you'll find a story that presents simple math to let you calculate if the cost of any particular trait you're considering is a good investment. Tables on the page let you calculate how many bushels of extra yield you need to break even, based upon how much extra you pay for the hybrid with the trait(s) compared to similar genetics without the trait(s). The simplified example assumes that if you pay $4 more for a trait and corn is $4 per bushel, then you need one extra bushel per acre to break even.

However, one astute reader points out that technically you need something more than one bushel per acre to break even. That's because there are extra storage, handling and drying costs associated with higher yields. While it may amount to a few cents extra per bushel, the point is that if you spend $20 extra for traits and corn is $4 per bushel, you need more than 5 extra bushels just to break even. Then at some point beyond that, any extra yield would go to the bottom line as profit for using the technology.

Dave Nanda, plant breeding consultant, notes that it's important to ask questions about the genetics behind any hybrid you're getting, particularly if you're unfamiliar with it. If you're just out to try out new traits, you may be planting a hybrid you've never grown on your farm, and likely haven't seen grown in your area. In fact, some of these hybrids for the newest traits, for example, haven't been grown anywhere except in plots because the trait wasn't approved for commercial production by regulatory agencies until this year.

Coming in the December issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer Nanda presents a painstaking chart he's prepared of all traits that have been marketed or are now being marketed commercially. The goal is to help you understand which traits control certain insects, and which don't, he says. In addition, he hopes the chart will help you decide which traits you really need, and which traits you're actually paying for and getting in hybrids you select to plant in 2010.

Watch for this issue coming soon.