Genetically Modified Corn Helps Common Kind, Too

by Dan Charles, NPR

Fifty years of records from cornfields in five Midwestern states show that genetically modified corn has dramatically reduced populations of a common corn-eating worm, the European corn borer. That has put more money in farmers’ pockets, but paradoxically most of the financial benefit went to farmers who did not grow those new kinds of corn.

Why? The fields of conventional corn also had the benefit of fewer worms because the fields of genetically engineered corn nearby had killed off the insects. But the conventional corn was cheaper to grow because the seed costs less. It’s similar to the situation of people who decide not to get a flu shot — if everyone around them gets the shot, they’re still less likely to get the flu. They get the benefit without the pain.

The European corn borer hitched a ride to the New World on a ship from Europe in 1917. It loves corn and quickly spread across corn-growing areas of the Midwest. Every year scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture went into cornfields and counted those worms. The new study, published in the journal Science, is based on those records.

A Pattern Of Infestation

“Amazingly, these data sets were just sitting in filing cabinets,” says William Hutchinson, a specialist on insects at the University of Minnesota.

Hutchinson and a group of colleagues pulled out those files and took a closer look. For most of the past 50 years, he says, there was a regular pattern to the corn borer infestation. “About every six to seven years there would be an outbreak, and then they would naturally decline.”

But starting 14 years ago, corn borer populations started falling and the occasional big outbreaks stopped. Hutchinson says there’s a simple reason: Also 14 years ago, farmers started growing corn that contained a gene inserted in the laboratory. This genetically engineered corn is poison to corn borers, so when the insect larvae start feeding, they die.

The gene came from a kind of bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, so the corn is known as Bt corn. It has become extremely popular among farmers.

Advantages Of Conventional Corn

Hutchinson and his colleagues are highlighting the financial rewards of growing conventional corn for their own reasons and they want farmers to keep planting it. If farmers plant only genetically engineered corn, it increases the risk that a new kind of corn borer will emerge — one that is resistant to the effects of Bt.

Bruce Tabashnik, an entomologist at the University of Arizona, says it’s not just a theoretical danger. “There are some other situations where insects have evolved resistance to Bt crops, including Bt corn,” he says. For instance, in Puerto Rico, farmers once grew Bt corn almost exclusively, and insects called fall armyworms used to die when they ate it. Now, they don’t.

To help keep the same thing from happening here, farmers in the U.S. are supposed to plant conventional corn on at least 10 percent of their acres. These are so-called “refuges” where corn borers can live in peace. But some farmers don’t do it.

Tabashnik, who was not involved in the new study, says this research could help convince more farmers that it’s not just a good idea to plant conventional corn — it’s also profitable.

“It’s a wonderful result,” he says. “This example is sort of the poster child for a case where resistance has not evolved. We can see what wonderful benefits there are, and hopefully some of the lessons from this case can be exported and encourage growers more generally, globally, to adopt the refuge strategy.”

Some farmers, in fact, seem already to have figured out that conventional corn can be more profitable. There are reports that demand for Bt corn has leveled off.

But even when farmers want to move away from Bt corn, it’s not always easy for them to do it. Seed companies such as Monsanto and DuPont now sell seeds that contain lots of different traits. Sometimes, if farmers want one of those genes — one that kills the corn rootworm, for instance — they also get others that they may not want, such as the Bt gene that kills the European corn borer.

(Source: NPR)

Leave a Reply

Seed/Biotech Stories

Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsFortune: Inside China’s $43 Billion Bid for Food Security
April 26, 2017
(Via Fortune.com) The worst famine in human history occurred in China from 1959 to 1961. An estimated 34 million people Read More
BPIA logo
Seed/BiotechBPIA Files Comments with USDA
April 24, 2017
The Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) has filed comments with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Read More
Pam Marrone
Crop InputsQ&A With Pam Marrone On The World’s First All-Biological Seed Treatment
April 4, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations Inc. and Israel-based Ground­work BioAg in February announced successful field trials of the world’s first all-biological comprehensive Read More
Soybean Field
Seed/BiotechBayer Invests $8.1 million In Soybean Advancement In The Midwest
March 16, 2017
Growers in Illinois and across the Midwest now have the added benefit of a state-of-the-art soybean research facility, increasing accessibility Read More
Trending Articles
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Nutrients for Life Foundation Teacher
FertilizerNutrients For Life Foundation Celebrates 10 Years Teaching Fertilizer Education
March 23, 2017
Those in agriculture know fertilizer is a vital ingredient to grow strong, productive crops. In fact, fertilizer is responsible for Read More
AdjuvantsA New Weed-Control Era Begins: But First, One Last Obstacle
March 4, 2017
There is trepidation, there is reluctance, and there is excitement. Ag retailers feel it all about the new dicamba and Read More
LIFT Academy video screenshot
Crop InputsLIFT Agriculture Academy: A Q&A With West Central Distribution’s Dean Hendrickson
March 1, 2017
West Central Distribution recently launched its LIFT Agriculture Academy, a new, premiere training and professional development resource for West Central’s ag Read More
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
Latest News
ManagementWashington Update, Dow-DuPont Earnings, and the Passing…
April 27, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the latest Beltway news, crop protection company 1st quarter numbers, and the Read More
BRANDT
CropLife 100Former PotashCorp COO Joins BRANDT Board
April 27, 2017
BRANDT has announced the appointment of another industry veteran to its board of directors. David Delaney, most recently EVP and Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsFortune: Inside China’s $43 Billion Bid for Food …
April 26, 2017
(Via Fortune.com) The worst famine in human history occurred in China from 1959 to 1961. An estimated 34 million people Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Changes in Board of Directors
April 26, 2017
ChemChina and Syngenta announced changes relating to the new Board of Directors of Syngenta following the closing of the ChemChina Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Introduces PerCarb Broad-Spectrum Bacte…
April 26, 2017
BioSafe Systems announces PerCarb (Sodium Carbonate Peroxyhydrate), a new alternative to potassium bicarbonate and lime sulfur products for use in Read More
Deere Twitter
EquipmentTop 10 Twitter Pics for #Plant17
April 26, 2017
Despite some wet weather in parts of the Midwest, growers and ag retailers are working feverishly to plant this year’s Read More
Donald Trump
Crop InputsTrump Targets Agriculture with Latest Executive Order
April 26, 2017
(Via UPI.com) President Donald Trump on Tuesday took executive action in an effort to help grow the domestic agriculture industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
EquipmentAGCO Mourns Passing of Company Founder, Industry Vision…
April 25, 2017
AGCO Corp., a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment and solutions, mourns the passing of founder and former President, Read More
Engenia soybeans
Crop InputsINNVICTIS CROP CARE Introduces VANDAL MOC Soybean Herbi…
April 25, 2017
INNVICTIS CROP CARE, LLC has announced the U.S. EPA registration for VANDAL MOC, a combination of sulfentrazone plus metolachlor. VANDAL Read More
Kochia
HerbicidesINNVICTIS CROP CARE Launches STAVE Post-Emerge Broadlea…
April 25, 2017
INNVICTIS CROP CARE, LLC has introduced STAVE as the newest addition to­ its expanding portfolio. STAVE will be a great Read More
Sonny Perdue
LegislationSonny Perdue Confirmed by Senate as Next Agriculture Se…
April 25, 2017
After months without a secretary of agriculture, the Senate voted Monday evening to confirm former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to Read More
BPIA logo
Seed/BiotechBPIA Files Comments with USDA
April 24, 2017
The Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) has filed comments with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Read More
Eric SfiligojHope for Application Equipment Sales
April 24, 2017
The old saying goes that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” If this is indeed the case, then things may Read More
Stewardship video screenshot
ManagementNew Video Raises Awareness of 2,4-D Stewardship
April 24, 2017
A new public service video developed and produced by the 2,4-D Research Task Force, in conjunction with the American Soybean Read More
ManagementAn Inside Look at Award Winning Ag Retailer Gar Tooteli…
April 20, 2017
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj discusses An Inside Look at Award Winning Ag Retailer Gar Tootelian Read More
Students Soybean Field
Industry NewsMACA Announces 2017 Young Leader Scholarship Recipients
April 19, 2017
The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) Board of Directors selected 11 college students to receive the MACA Young Leader Scholarship Read More
Growmark FS Outlet
SoftwareKnoa Software Solution Helps GROWMARK Boost System Perf…
April 19, 2017
Knoa Software, a leading provider of user experience management (UEM) software, has announced that GROWMARK, Inc., a regional agricultural cooperative Read More
Crop InputsFBN Publishes ‘Voice of the Farmer’ Agricul…
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, which the company is describing as “a special Read More