Decoding Genetic Traits and Technologies

Sarah Mock

26 Aug 2016

Genetic traits and technologies are often one of the biggest value-added expenses to your seeds order. But do you really need them? Which ones do you need? How much should they cost? Evaluating your genetic traits starts with understanding how they work. 

Insect Resistance Traits

Insect resistant traits allow you to reduce or eliminate the amount of insecticide needed to control european corn borer, corn rootworm, and the whole Lepidopteran family. Most companies have several different traits that control one or both of these insects, and many packages include two or even three unique traits for the control of the same insect. These traits tend to be the most costly.

Herbicide Tolerance Traits

The two most common herbicide tolerant traits are Roundup Ready and Liberty Link. These traits come standard on a majority of seeds on the market, and 99% of seeds planted by FBN farmers are herbicide tolerant. Though there are varieties available that are not herbicide tolerant, the yield gains of using the common herbicides to control weeds are significant, so you probably won’t save a lot by cutting them out of your seed buying plan.

What’s the difference between insect control and insect suppression?

For most commercial seeds, the combination of traits and insecticide treatment lends either insect control or insect suppression on any of seven insect varieties including; european corn borer, corn rootworm, black cutworm, corn earworm, western bean cutworm, and common stalk borer. But what’s the difference between control and suppression?

Insect suppression is the weaker of the two options. If your seed is labeled to suppress an insect, it will carry traits or insecticides to prevent the high density populations that pose the greatest risk to yield. Unless your seeds are labeled for insect control, your crop will still be at risk for low-level infestations. Seeds labeled for insect control carry a trait or insecticide that will actively block any insect in a specific family from feeding on it.

When evaluating a trait package, consider what pests pose the biggest threat in your area. If your crop is particularly at risk for ECB or cutworm, invest in a trait that will control these pests. If the risk of earworm or stalk borer is minimal, consider a seed treatment that will work to suppress these pests instead of opting for a more expensive control package.

What is RIB?

When you plant Bt corn, you are required to plant a non-Bt corn refuge. Basically, refuge corn preserves the insect resistance in your hybrids by giving your pests somewhere to gotoher than your crop. Insect Resistance Management, or IRM, is an important part of using traited seeds, not only because IRM requirements are enforceable by law, but also to ensure you’re getting the most from your traits and not endangering your neighbors or future crops.

One of the advances in refuge requirements are Refuge in Bag, or RIB, systems. Though some technologies require a distinct, structured insect refuge at some distance from your traited crop, many manufacturers now include untraited seeds directly in the bag so that you don’t have to set up your fields to accommodate a refuge. To take advantage of RIB systems, look for RIB on the label.

Drought Tolerance and Nitrogen Efficiency

Another reason that seed costs have skyrocketed over the last decade is because nitrogen and drought efficiency have increased in the newer varieties. Though the savings associated with efficiency are harder to directly quantify (and can very considerably from brand to brand and seed to seed), it’s worth considering. A seed that’s $10 or $20 more a bag, but that can reach its yield potential with significantly less nitrogen may net more profit. You should be evalutating your need for and the cost of these traits on a seed by seed or season by season basis.

Did you know that the same seeds can be marketed under different brands, and sometimes for radically different prices?

Sarah Mock

26 Aug 2016