Southern corn growers will pull their planters out of the shed and into the field in only a few short weeks. Bt corn will be planted on millions of acres across the South, protecting plants from damaging insects like corn borer and corn earworm. But to ensure that the technology remains effective, farmers in cotton-growing areas must plant a structured refuge alongside their Bt corn.
“Planting a refuge is the single most important thing we can do to keep Bt traits working for years to come,” said Chad Wetzel, a farmer from Tom Bean, Texas, and member of the National Corn Growers Association Freedom to Operate Action Team. “If we lose Bt technology as a defense against insects, growing corn will change dramatically.”
Southern corn growers must plant their fields to include either a 20 or 50 percent refuge, depending on the Bt hybrid planted. The purpose of planting a refuge area is to prevent pests from developing resistance to the Bt technology. That refuge ensures that the insect population remains susceptible to Bt technology, keeping Bt corn effective for the grower.
A refuge is part of an insect resistance management plan, and farmers who do not comply with refuge requirements risk losing access to the technology, but it is also essential for Bt stewardship.
“I know all too well that planting a refuge may seem like a non-essential extra step during a busy time of year,” says Wetzel. “Taking short cuts now will only hurt us long-term. We can’t risk losing Bt technology like we’ve lost the effectiveness of some of our herbicide technologies.”
The Take Action program encourages farmers to take the necessary steps to preserve the effectiveness of Bt technology. In addition to planting a refuge, farmers should consider additional actions to keep the technology effective, such as:
- Use of multiple management strategies, including:
- Rotating crops
- Using pyramided traits
- Rotating Bt traits
- Rotating and using multiple modes of action for all insecticide seed treatments and insecticide applications
- Scouting to determine effectiveness of control measures used and identify whether further action is necessary