Hoosier farmers show resistance to biotech corn

April 2, 2004, AgAnswers, www.aganswers.net: Indiana farmers lag behind most leading corn-producing states in planting genetically modified (GMO) corn. Old-fashioned Hoosier common sense appears to be at work, said Corinne Alexander, a grain marketing specialist in Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics.

Unlike many states to its west, Indiana has suffered little damage from European corn borer, a major corn-destroying pest. Thus, Indiana farmers are reluctant to plant corn containing the insect-killing bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene and other resistance traits because there is no economic motivation to do so, Alexander said. Also, farmers growing non-GMO corn are receiving attractive prices for their crops, she said.

"When people wonder why Indiana has fewer acres in GMO corn varieties than other states, I think there are two reasons," Alexander said. "One is that the large agronomic benefits for producers in Indiana haven't been there or, at least, they haven't seen them. The second reason is that Indiana has a very large market for food-grade and non-GMO corn, which provides good opportunities for premiums for producers."

Alexander added that Hoosier producers also might be less inclined to plant biotech crops because some GMO grain is not approved for sale to Europe, making it more difficult to sell.

Indiana farmers are expected to plant 19 percent of the state's 5.6 million acres of corn to biotech varieties this spring, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued Wednesday (3/31). One year ago, 16 percent of Indiana corn acres were planted to GMO seed, including insect- and herbicide-resistant varieties, and stacked gene varieties that contain multiple resistance traits.

In comparison, Illinois farmers are projected to plant 35 percent of that state's 11.2 million acres of corn to GMO varieties in 2004, the USDA reported. The percentages are even greater in Iowa (53 percent), Minnesota (57 percent), Nebraska (64 percent) and South Dakota (80 percent). Indiana corn growers are ahead of Ohio farmers in adopting biotech corn, however. Only 16 percent of Ohio's corn acreage is expected to be GMO varieties.

Nationwide, 46 percent of the 79 million acres farmers say they'll plant to corn this season will be biotech, the USDA reported.

Biotech seed corn costs about $115 per bag, while non-GMO corn seed is roughly $93 per bag. Farmers usually earn about a 10-cent premium per bushel of identity-preserved non-biotech corn. "Between the difference in seed costs and the premium, this would mean about a $22 an acre revenue advantage for non-biotech corn, assuming an average yield of 140 bushels per acre," Alexander said.

The 3 percent increase in GMO corn acres statewide this year likely can be attributed to farmers purchasing a new Bt variety resistant to corn rootworm, Alexander said.

While Indiana farmers aren't moving toward GMO corn en masse, they've already made the switch to biotech soybeans. For the second straight year, Hoosier growers are projected to plant 88 percent of their soybean acreage with seed resistant to Roundup herbicide. Nationally, the average is 86 percent — up 5 percent from 2003.

Farmers deciding to stick with non-biotech soybeans should have little trouble marketing their crop, and at a high price, Alexander said.

"On the Ohio River we have a market for non-GMO soybeans," she said. "The buyer there is Japan. Japan continues to want to source non-GMO soybeans from the United States, and they look to states like Indiana, Illinois and Ohio for their sources of certified non-GMO soybeans.

"The news that the acreage in GMO soybeans has increased is good news for all those producers who are selling non-GMO soybeans, because that means premiums, which are currently in the 35- to 50-cent a bushel range, are going to remain strong in that 35- to 50-cent range."

The USDA's estimates on GMO crop plantings can be found in the department's Prospective Plantings Report, under "Biotechnology Varieties." That report is available online at http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/pspl0304.txt .

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