Corn Growers Fall back to Pesticides after Genetically Modified Seeds Failed

Actually, Herbicide-tolerant and Bt-transgenic crops caused a reduction in the use of pesticides. Charles Benbrook at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources says BT crops caused a reduction in the use of insecticide by 10-12 million pounds in a year between 1996 and 2011. Data gotten from USDA is showing a more drastic decrease.

But for some years back, the billion dollar pest with a new resistance has started firing back against Monsanto’s BT seed. And the American corn farmers who planted on a record close to 97.3 million acres this year are fighting back with the only weapon in their arsenal by gradually cutting down on the use of pesticide.

Any downward movement on the use of pesticide now looks historic. Year 2011 and 2012 appeared to be extraordinary years when acres were dedicated to corn farming and it yielded $77 and $80 billion respectively while the prices of corn per bushel at the said years were $6.22 and $7.40, farmers continued to grow corn and pesticides have now become one of their big “inputs” in the corn production.

In 2005, $2 corn became a reality; they see too many products competing to use their product as raw materials, which might bring about a depression into the future. Beverages, starch, high fructose corn syrup, cereals and sweeteners are some of the products competing to use corn for processing. Corn-fed beef, pork, poultry and dairy are principal corn users. Talking about the fuel front ethanol, it requires around 500 million bushels of corn for its processing.

According to Benbrook and Gray, buying more pesticide as a means of controlling another break-out of the western corn rootworm is just a little more insurance for corn growers. After discovering a severe rootworm injury in a Cass County, IL cornfield in June 2012, Gray says most growers’ decisions on the use of pesticide this year is a function of their harvest experience during the last fall.

At the wake of 2013, Gray contacted Illinois corn and soybean growers at five different locations in the state. He surveyed growers with hand-held “clickers” and discovered that while an average of 92% of the growers are planning to plant BT hybrid corn as protection against corn rootworm, others amounting to an average of 46.66% planned to use insecticides for planting.

More pesticide bought to control another break-out of the western corn rootworm is seen by most growers as just a little more insurance, according to both Gray and Benbrook. Gray, who discovered severe rootworm injury in a Cass County, IL cornfield in June 2012, says most growers made decisions about pesticide use this year based on their harvest experiences last fall.

Earlier in 2013, Gray meet with Illinois corn and soybean growers at five locations in the state. He used hand-held “clickers’ to survey growers, finding on average 92 percent planned to plant a Bt hybrid for corn rootworm protection in 2013, but on average 46.66 percent also plan to apply insecticides at planting.

After his meetings with almost 600 Illinois growers, Gray predicted the sharp increase in planting-time soil insecticides with corn rootworm Bt hybrids. Last week, that prediction was verified with the Wall Street Journal reporting surging insecticide sales for companies like American Vanguard Corp. and Syngenta AG.

Corn growers, according to Gray, are “covering their bets” by upping their pesticide use while sticking with a Bt hybrid for corn rootworm. Benbrook agrees growers are “all in in their bet on corn.”

Gray’s work with Illinois corn growers even brought a response from Monsanto last year. The giant agri-business suggested growers using their product should rotate their crops and traits, and buy their dual of mode action products. At this point, Monsanto’s dominance in America’s cornfields is not threatened. That could change if one of its topline products is breaking down.

For 2013, more acres have been planted with genetically modified corn than ever, and its being planted with more pesticides than in more than a decade. USDA’s current forecast for harvest time is for corn selling for around $4.50 a bushel.

That would be enough to cover the “inputs” and clear a profit. Droughts or disease that reduce yields could increase prices. Memories of last fall’s corn futures of $8.50 continue to dance in the heads of growers.

With more than 40 states contributing to the U.S, corn crop, growers continue to have significant political clout. They no longer get direct payment from the USDA if prices go south, but the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program takes up the slack.


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