Agricultural biotechnology is moving into a new era next season in four Midwest states where the USDA Risk Management Agency has agreed to reduce crop insurance premiums for dryland growers who plant at least 75 percent of their acreage to transgenic corn varieties.

Jim Hudson, technical resources manager for Monsanto, told the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) at its annual convention in San Diego that the pilot program is the result of three years of extensive research that has shown that biotech corn varieties reduce plant stress and significantly and consistently increase yields.

It is the first crop insurance product approval based on the risk management benefits of advanced technology.

The pilot program is called Biotech Yield Endorsement (BYE) and will be offered by crop insurance companies in the heart of the Midwest Corn Belt — Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota — where more than 50 percent of the record 2007 U.S. corn acreage of 90 million acres was planted.

Hudson told ASFMRA that if the pilot program proves successful in the Corn Belt, it could be expanded to other dryland crops.

“In the three years of evaluating trait corn varieties in the Midwest, we saw consistently higher yields with less stress on the plants. This is something beyond what was thought about when Monsanto first developed traits,” Hudson said.

Last fall the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) approved the BYE program, which will give growers a double digit discount in crop insurance premiums. USDA/RMA estimates the average premium rate reduction in the pilot areas will be about 13 percent. It applies to farm-based yield and revenue crop insurance policies.

The program will be available to growers who plant at least 75 percent to 80 percent of corn varieties identified as containing Monsanto’s YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2 or YieldGard VT Triple biotech traits. What farmers plant will be verified with DNA testing of the plants.

USDA said more than 250 corn seed companies are licensed by Monsanto to use the triple-stack technology.

The triple-stack genetics in corn varieties protect against above ground lepidopteran pests, below ground corn rootworm, and weeds treated over the top of corn with glyphosate.

Hudson pointed out that this program not only offers reduced crop production costs for producers without undue risk, it also reduces the exposure of the government to using taxes to pay for crop losses.

e-mail: hcline@farmpress.com