Protecting Traits

Growers who safeguard valuable seed and trait technologies will help them remain effective for the long term.
Protecting Traits
Trait stewardship requires current generations to balance their needs with those of future generations. When the concept is applied to seeds, it involves practices that will help sustain the value of crops and traits to growers for years to come.

“For example, good stewardship practices, such as planting a refuge, help preserve the effectiveness of Bt technology, reducing the risk that insects will develop resistance,” says Abby Vulcan, trait stewardship specialist at Syngenta. “Resistance can affect a grower’s yield and profitability and a retailer’s ability to sell products. It’s important to work together to combat resistance.”

Since strong stewardship programs are the best defense for protecting the long-term viability of seed and trait technologies, Syngenta takes responsibility for managing a product’s complete life cycle. The company also looks to agricultural retailers and Syngenta Seed Advisors™ to help protect the long-term value of and investment in input traits such as Bt technologies and output traits like Enogen® corn enzyme technology, which facilitates the ethanol production process.

Bt Corn Stewardship Requirements

Bt trait technologies have been instrumental in controlling costly pests, including the European corn borer and corn rootworm. To help preserve these important technologies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a refuge on every farm where growers plant Bt corn. Syngenta offers refuge-in-a-bag options to make planting a refuge easy. However, these options are not available in all products or regions of the country; therefore, growers must make sure they purchase and plant the appropriate refuge. As part of EPA refuge requirements, growers using Bt corn from Syngenta—or any other seed company—must sign a stewardship agreement.

“If farmers don’t follow stewardship rules, they risk losing their right to plant corn with these types of trait technologies,” says Bernie Walsh, a Syngenta Seed Advisor from Durand, Illinois. “We must educate growers about refuges to maintain trait viability.”

“Resistance can affect a grower’s yield and profitability and a retailer’s ability to sell products. It’s important to work together to combat resistance.”

Abby Vulcan
Growers who don’t follow refuge requirements also risk the long-term costs of insects developing resistance to valuable traits. In response, Syngenta and other trait technology developers have formed the Agriculture Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee to help educate the industry and monitor insect resistance-management (IRM) compliance. The committee has worked with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) to develop IRM tools, such as the IRM refuge calculator. This tool can help growers determine the appropriate refuge, the quantity of standard seed bags to buy for both trait and refuge, and possible configurations for planting certain corn products in the U.S.

On its stewardship webpage, Syngenta provides access to its stewardship process, agreement and guide, as well as a link to the NCGA IRM refuge calculator. Syngenta updates its stewardship guide each year and includes information such as refuge size requirements based on geography and product, refuge planting options, bag-tag labels, and corn rootworm best management practices. Syngenta also offers a toll-free stewardship helpline: 877-476-2676. “All of these tools demonstrate the importance of trait stewardship,” Vulcan says.

Preserving Output Trait Value

Protecting the value of Enogen corn enzyme technology—the first genetically modified output trait in corn specifically for the ethanol industry—is also critical. Because Enogen corn is genetically modified to express the alpha amylase enzyme within the corn itself, ethanol plants don’t need to buy liquid alpha amylase normally used in the ethanol production process. Enogen corn allows ethanol producers to process more corn with less water, electricity and natural gas on a per gallon basis, effectively reducing an ethanol plant’s carbon footprint.

But Enogen corn is not commodity corn, notes Jack Bernens, head of Enogen at Syngenta. “It is a high-value specialty grain for use in dry-grind corn ethanol production,” he says. “Since its introduction in 2011, Syngenta has voluntarily implemented comprehensive stewardship protocols to mitigate potential commercial concerns about Enogen corn affecting unintended processes.”

Preventing resistance from occurring helps maintain the effectiveness of seed traits

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By following simple yet specific stewardship requirements, growers who plant Enogen corn have the opportunity to receive a 40-cent-per-bushel (on average) premium. These requirements include planting border rows around fields with Enogen corn, cleaning out planters and combines, and storing Enogen grain in bins separate from non-Enogen corn.

Additionally, Syngenta has the Enogen Value Tracker™ tool in place to simplify grain tracking. This tool is a naturally derived purple tracer trait in select bags of Enogen hybrids. During the growing season, the Enogen Value Tracker appears as randomly dispersed purple plants across an Enogen field and represents up to 5 percent of the plants in a given field. The grain produced from these purple (and neighboring) plants are made up of both yellow and purple kernels to make visually tracking Enogen corn easier from harvest through storage and processing. The purple kernels also help make sure this high-value grain is delivered to its intended destination.

“The Enogen Value Tracker reinforces good stewardship practices,” says Enogen grower Marc Mummelthei of Waverly, Iowa. “It helps growers like me manage border rows more easily and visually track Enogen grain from harvest through delivery to the ethanol plant.”

As growers weigh their current management decisions, these stewardship practices will help them retain valuable traits for use today—and tomorrow.