Are Farmers to Blame for Resistant Pests?

Page 1 of 2

The Western Corn Rootworm is one of the five agricultural pests that have developed resistance to GM crops. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A study conducted earlier this summer by the University of Arizona discovered that five of the 13 major agricultural pests had developed resistance to genetically modified crops. It is important to note that each case of resistance was highly localized. For instance, Western Corn Rootworm may withstand one toxin on several farms in the Midwest, but not all toxins and not in all regions of the country or world. In fact, Bruce Tabashnik, the lead author of the study, reported that “the picture is much rosier than anyone predicted” when GM crops were first introduced 1 billion acres ago in 1996.

Don’t let a study’s conclusion get in the way of the chance to publish more headlines that report the failures of biotechnology and jump on GM seed companies such as Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON), Syngenta AG (ADR) (NYSE:SYT)The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW), and E I Du Pont De Nemours And Co (NYSE:DD). Rosy or not, resistance is not good. Once it gets past a certain point the problem can be difficult to contain. We aren’t there yet, and luckily, seed companies have already engineered a simple solution (crisis averted — phew!). But if you take a step back and evaluate the source of the resistance, you’ll find that the iconic American farmer may actually be to blame.

Resistance is futile! Take refuge!
GM crops include genes to produce the Bt toxin, which is a natural pesticide found in soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. How big of a breakthrough are Bt crops for farmers? Consider that from 1996 to 2011, global consumption of pesticides fell 9% while Bt cotton and Bt corn alone saved farmers $57 billion in pesticide costs. Savings like that are music to any industry’s ears.

As with any product, whether it’s an iPod, a bottle of sunscreen, or in this case a bag of engineered seeds, there are rules to follow to ensure proper use and function. Farmers who buy and plant GM seeds are instructed to plant refuge plots, or a minority plot of non-hybrid seeds, that make up about 5% to 20% of each field. Refuge plots don’t eliminate resistant pests, but they are extremely effective at controlling their populations.

Essentially, growing a minority of non-engineered crops within your field of mostly GM crops ensures that pest populations will retain a healthy subpopulation of non-resistant pests. Any resistant pests will breed with their non-resistant counterparts and produce offspring that do not carry genes required for resistance. Got that?

That’s how biological engineering works. No cancer drug targets 100% of quickly dividing cells in the body — only enough to elicit an effective immune response. Antibiotics work in much the same way. Perhaps our overuse of antibiotics is the reason resistant infectious organisms such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) exist in the first place. Criticize the rules if you want, but consider that a field of 100% Bt corn would lead to total resistance pretty quickly (that’s pretty much the point of the refuge plot) and a field of non-GM seeds would be decimated by pests.

Simply put: When it comes to planting refuge plots, farmers have been dropping the ball. What’s this grand solution from seed companies, then?

Refuge-in-a-Bag
No, Monsanto and Syngenta aren’t upping the dose of Bt toxin in their crops. Instead, most seed companies will soon offer only one option of refuge seeds: Refuge-in-a-Bag. Rather than buy 19 bags of GM seeds for every one bag of non-hybrid seed, haul them back to the field, and become an agricultural alchemist just trying to determine how to most effectively plant a refuge plot, farmers will buy bags that contain a 19-to-1 ratio of hybrid and non-hybrid seeds. It sounds ingenious, but several companies have offered such an option for several years. Now that they’re field-tested and ready, there’s no going back.

Consider the following three pictures from 2011, when Dow Agrosciences was testing its 95%/5% Smart Stax Refuge-in-a-Bag. Here is a clustered refuge plot (with non-hybrid plants painted orange for a visual) representing the old days of planting seeds:

Source: FarmProgress.

Page 1 of 2
blog comments powered by Disqus
Insider Monkey Headlines
Insider Monkey Small Cap Strategy
Insider Monkey Small Cap Strategy

Insider Monkey beat the market by 52 percentage points in 24 months Click to see monthly returns in table format!

Lists

7 Most Expensive Cities in the World

5 Least Expensive Cities in the World

10 Celebrities Who Believe In Scientology

10 High Margin Food Products to Build a Business Around

The 10 Most Expensive Clothing Stores in the United States to Get Decked Out At

The 5 Biggest Kickstarter Scams That Swindled Backers’ Donations

The 10 Most Expensive Boarding Schools In the World

50 Crazy Facts About Japan You Won’t Believe

Top 10 Least Expensive Hybrid Cars to Save the Planet With

The 10 Biggest ‘Gate’ Controversies in History

The 10 States with the Highest Nursing Shortages Leaving Their Hospitals Depleted

The 10 Best Value Investment Blogs that Every Investor Must Read

The 6 Cheapest Boarding Schools in Europe 2015

The 5 Most Expensive Cars To Insure in the World

The 10 Most Common Genetically Modified Foods

10 Self-Made Billionaires Who Came From Nothing

The 10 Most Expensive Cities to Live in North America

The 13 Most Expensive Headphones in the World to Represent

The Top 20 Wealthiest Soccer Teams in 2014

4 BuzzWorthy Cannabis Stocks And Some Smoking Derivative Plays

The 10 Healthiest Fast Food Chains in America to Dine At

The 5 Most Expensive Cat Food Brands You Can Spoil Your Kitty With

The 6 Best eCommerce Platforms for Small Businesses

The 10 Worst Mistakes an Entrepreneur Can Make

The 5 Most OP Characters in League of Legends to Carry Games and Crush Foes With

The 5 Best Foods to Eat Before Running that Will Help You Pound the Pavement

10 Glaring Plot Holes in The Walking Dead that a Zombie-Filled Bus Could Drive Through

The 5 Biggest Celebrity Stoners Who Love Their Reefer

The 10 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time by Out-of-Touch Critics

Top 6 Least Expensive Cruise Destinations For 2015 that Will Take You to Paradise

10 States with Lowest Substance Abuse Rates in America

The 14 Most Watched TV Finales Ever

The 10 Best Selling Role Playing Games of All Time for PC

10 Most Influential Papers In Economics

Top 8 Biggest Charities in the US

10 Worst Celebrity Career Moves Ever

Top 10 Best Paid Tennis Stars in the World

Top 6 Cities For The Ultra Rich to Live in Comfort

10 Cities with High Demand for Nurses

6 of the Worst Greeting Card Messages Ever Crafted

How to Make Money in ArcheAge and Build Your Empire

10 Foods To Eat To Lower Cholesterol Levels

The 10 Most Hated Television Characters of All Time

The 30 Worst Halloween Costume Ideas Ever Brought to Horrible Life

10 Vocational Skills in Demand Today with Jobs Waiting to be Filled

10 Best Places to Visit in Central and South America

The 10 Greatest Empires in History Which Nearly Conquered the World

The 6 Cheapest Boarding Schools In America 2015

5 Clear Reasons LoL is Better than DotA, Continues to Rule MOBAs

The Only 9 Teams with a Chance to Win the Super Bowl

Subscribe

Enter your email:

Delivered by FeedBurner

X

Thanks! An email with instructions is sent to !

Your email already exists in our database. Click here to go to your subscriptions

Insider Monkey returned 47.6% in its first year! Wondering How?

Download a complete edition of our newsletter for free!