“I think most are familiar with the pictures of YieldGard Rootworm corn roots – how much bigger they are and thus how much easier it is it for the plant to tap into more moisture and nutrients,” says the company’s U.S. Traits Marketing Lead.

“When you combine that with technology that protects the stalk from corn borers…this is the first time such a thing has been offered to farmers.

Rhylander says that the previous corn rootworm technology without corn borer protection was “like putting a governor on an engine. If you had damage to the stalk, you weren’t utilizing all the moisture and nutrients being taken in by the bigger plant roots. Now, the governor has been removed.”

Monsanto says YieldGard Plus corn provides growers with in-seed protection, allowing protection from corn rootworm larvae and the European corn borer. The pest duo – nicknamed "billion-dollar bugs” – costs U.S. corn growers approximately $1 billion annually.

For the 2004 growing season, YieldGard Plus will join other Monsanto YieldGard corn products (including YieldGard Corn Borer and YieldGard Rootworm) in the commercial marketplace. Following regulatory clearances YieldGard Plus will be available through Monsanto's branded seed businesses -- DeKalb and Asgrow - as well as through licensed, independent seed companies.

“This technology (YieldGard Plus) will be made available in corn hybrids following the necessary regulatory clearances on the state level,” says Rhylander. “So, even though we’ve received EPA registration, we still must have state approvals before moving the corn. We must also have the receipt of Japanese import approval – which we’re still waiting for.”

Since receiving EPA registration in early November, Monsanto has submitted labels to a number of states. Nine – Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- have already given approval.

The IRM options

Monsanto employees are also keen to speak on stewardship regarding YieldGard Plus technology. Much of that centers on Insect Resistance Management plans.

“Most know that part of the EPA registration required IRM plans be in place when growers plant the technology,” says Todd DeGooyer, Monsanto U.S. corn insect tech manager. “Using such a plan is aimed at delaying the potential of resistance by target pests.”

Such plans are designed to maintain effectiveness and to preserve benefits of Bacillus thuringiensis crops for the American farmer, says DeGooyer. By incorporating IRM plans into farming operations, growers aren’t only securing the benefits of the technology for themselves but actively prolonging the benefits for future generations.

“Monsanto remains committed to the stewardship of Bt technology and has been working hard to educate growers about the importance of Bt crop stewardship and to help them understand the obligations of this program.”

The IRM plans for corn are similar to those already in use for other Bt products like YieldGard Corn Borer corn. As with the other products, DeGooyer says Monsanto wants to maintain flexibility and practicality of YieldGard Plus’ IRM plan.

“For YieldGard Plus, the EPA requires the grower to plant a corn refuge with hybrids that don’t contain Bt technology to combat corn rootworms nor corn borers. In most corn-growing areas, the refuge must represent at least 20 percent of the growers’ YieldGard Plus corn acres. In areas where cotton is also being grown, the corn borer refuge must be at least 50 percent.

“Growers that plant YieldGard Plus hybrids will have two different options to implement an IRM plan. First is the ‘Common Refuge Option.’ This means a refuge is planted to serve both corn borers and rootworms. The second option allows growers to plant separate refuge areas for corn borers and corn rootworms.

“We believe the majority of growers really understand the important role of stewardship and are acting responsibly to help sustain the economic and environmental benefits of all BT corn technology,” he said.

This year we’ll have more demand than supply,” says Rhylander, responding to a question about availability of new hybrids containing YieldGard Plus. “The reason I can’t give you a good number is we’re unsure how much seed other corn companies with this technology will have available. We just don’t have a good number. We do think there will be enough so that many farmers will be able to try it. But we anticipate the demand will exceed supply in 2004.

“I suspect that in areas where farmers are already using our technology to combat corn borers or rootworms, there will be more opportunities to access this product. Those areas are likely to be where seed companies will move YieldGard Plus seed. So, for example, a state like Iowa will probably see more of this seed.”

DeGooyer says there will be “lots” of hybrid options: “We’re looking at over 100 seed partner licensees with YieldGard Plus technology available spread throughout the country. There will be wide distribution and a lot of maturity offerings – ranging from 95 days to 115 to 116 days.”

The Monsanto spokesmen were asked about performance guarantees for the new technology.

“I would say it’s hard to put a dollar amount on it,” says DeGooyer. “It depends on the insect pressure in a given field in a given year. We saw a 12-bushel (difference in) our trials on YieldGard Rootworm. We saw a 7.4-bushel yield advantage for YieldGard Corn Borer over conventional germ plasm (seen in over 13,000-plus comparisons the company has made over the last two years).”

Rhylander said Monsanto expects to receive Japanese approval in time to sell and plant YieldGard Plus in the 2004 growing season. First sales of the triple-stack of YieldGard Plus and Roundup Ready – “assuming we have all the regulatory approvals” – will probably be in 2005.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com