July 23, 2014

Monsanto wants to Increase Corn Refuse areas in Brazil

Brazilian farmers have been quick adopters of the Bt technology used in corn hybrids to make the corn plant resistant to insect attack. The Bt gene produces a protein that is toxic to insects which greatly reduces the need for insecticide applications and Brazilian farmers have been using this new technology for six years.

The continued success of this technology though requires the planting of a refuse area where conventional corn hybrids (non-GMO) are used. These refuse areas act as a sink where the insects can reproduce and pass on their susceptibility to the Bt gene. If all the corn in a region contained the Bt gene, then eventually the insect population in the region would develop resistance to the technology.

The guidelines for refuse use is that at least 10% of the corn field should be planted to conventional corn hybrids and the refuse area should not be more than 800 meters from a field containing Bt corn. The refuse area is usually planted as a strip along the edge of a field. The problem in Brazil though is that not everybody is following the guidelines and planting refuse areas.

Studies have shown that only 20% of the corn producers in Brazil using the Bt technology planted a refuse area in 2013/14. Monsanto wants to increase that to 70% participation with two years. As a way to increase the use of refuse areas, Monsanto announced a program that offers a 30% discount to Brazilian farmers who purchase conventional corn hybrids for their refuse acreage.

Brazilian scientists are worried that this new technology may be overcome by resistant insects and they too are encouraging farmers to adopt the refuse areas as part of their "best practices" which also includes crop rotations and integrated pest management.