Even with new innovations coming for maintaining refuge acres with genetically engineered (GE) corn, there’s solid evidence that many growers are not meeting the current requirements. In fact, one out of every four growers who plants genetically engineered corn is failing to comply with at least one important insect-resistance management requirement, claim staffers with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, D.C.

Consider these statistics from 2008:

  • Only 78% of growers planting corn-borer-protected crops met the refuge size requirement. Some 88% met the distance requirement.
  • Only 74% of growers planting rootworm-protected crops met the refuge size requirement. Some 37% of growers did not meet the distance requirement.
  • Only 72% of farmers growing stacked hybrids that protected against both corn borer and rootworm met the refuge size requirement. Only 66% met the distance requirement.

These rates are down from 2003 to 2005 when compliance rates were often above 90%.

Those findings come from a CSPI report that calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to refuse to renew registrations of GE corn varieties unless compliance rates improve. They also want to impose penalties on growers who don’t follow the rules.

More Compliance Needed

“Given the stakes, regulators should insist on compliance rates much closer to 100% to prevent insect problems that threaten all farmers, not just those planting biotech crops,” says Greg Jaffe, the CSPI biotechnology director.

In 2009, more than 60% of the U.S. corn acreage was planted to corn with genes from the Bacillus thuringienis bacterium (Bt). It’s estimated growers lose as much as 20 bushels per acre in corn refuge areas compared to acres with in-plant protection.

Lower Refuge Requirements

The new SmartStax hybrids from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences will require only a 5% refuge compared to 20% for other GE hybrids. This technology will be available on 3 to 4 million acres in 2010.

Syngenta is asking the EPA for reduced refuge sizes for both corn borer and lepidopteran with its new stack of the Agrisure Viptera trait, the Agrisure CB/LL trait and the Herculex I trait.

The EPA is also evaluating Pioneer Hi-Bred’s Optimum AcreMax 1 technology that will allow the insect-protection refuge to be planted throughout the field. A needed European corn borer refuge can be planted in a different field up to a half mile away.

Do It Or Lose It

While there’s new technology coming to reduce refuge compliance needs, there’s no excuse for growers not following the rules. If you and other growers don’t comply, you could end up with tougher rules, possible fines and penalties.