More Trait Disruptions

Import Approval Questions Linger

Growers are encouraged to check with their grain elevators about acceptance of certain GM traits that might not be approved in international markets. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Steve Pitstick had planned on dedicating 15% of his soybean acreage to Monsanto's new dicamba-tolerant soybeans this spring. The Maple Park, Illinois, farmer, changed those plans when it became clear the new soybeans wouldn't have European Union import approvals prior to planting.

"It just wasn't worth the risk," Pitstick told DTN. "There was no place to sell those beans without EU approvals and promises that would happen weren't good enough for me."

Import approvals have become a critical issue between growers, grain handlers and technology providers in recent years. The courts are still weighing alleged market disruptions resulting from Syngenta's launch of the MIR 162 (Viptera) trait without waiting for China import approvals in 2011-- although the company maintains China didn't become an important corn customer until after that time. China finally signed off on the Viptera trait in December 2014.

Two years ago, Syngenta also launched Duracade, another insect trait, without approvals from the EU and China. That trait still lacks those approvals and farmers must sign agreements and carefully funnel corn produced from Duracade to domestic channels such as feedlots or feed the grain on their own farms.

Now Monsanto finds its new dicamba soybean technology known as Roundup Ready 2 Xtend (RR2X) in a similar holding pattern. The company officially launched RR2X after China granted approvals in February 2016. Miriam Paris, U.S. Soybean Marketing Manager, told DTN in a prepared statement that the company communicated that the EU import approval was still pending at the time.

"Based on our historical experience and our direct communication with EU officials, we expected approval prior to planting," Paris said. Both of the single traits, Roundup Ready 2 Yield and dicamba-tolerant soybeans, are fully approved by the EU and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It is the stack of traits that still need a regulatory nod. EFSA issued a positive scientific opinion on Roundup Ready 2 Xtend last June, she added.

Paris added that the EU Commission stated in a letter to the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) dated April 12 that import approval for RR2X is "at the final stage of the procedure" and even more recently a Commission official was quoted in the European press as stating the product should be approved "before the summer," she said.

"Earlier this spring, we understood that final decisions were being made on the farm, and we communicated changes specific to the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend return policy. Growers who wish to trade in Roundup Ready 2 Xtend units or cancel orders can do so, and we will waive certain charges," she said.

Pitstick said he had no trouble exchanging his dicamba-tolerant soybean seed for a replacement product. Another sticking point for the technology has been that while the RR2X trait has all the approvals needed to be planted in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to approve a dicamba-based herbicide to be used with it. EPA extended the public comment period on the dicamba-based herbicides to be used in the system in late April. Monsanto has since officially stated there will be no labeled dicamba herbicide available for use on Xtend soybeans during the 2016 growing season.

"I don't have a weed resistance issue on my farm, so that didn't bother me," Pitstick said. "I mostly wanted to get some experience with the germplasm this year and see how the varieties yielded.

"I hope the trait does get EU approval," he added. "But it just wasn't worth it for me to take the risk this year."

Monsanto had targeted 3 million acres for the Xtend soybean technology in 2016, but the company has since lowered estimates to 2 million acres. The U.S. exports about 6.5 million metric tons of soybeans and meal to the EU. That equates to about 11% of all U.S. soy exports.

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