Production Blog

Tend Your Traits

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Know what traits you are growing this spring because not all are approved in every export market. (DTN photo by Jim Patrico)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Wake up and face the responsibility. Avoiding further trait troubles with China over acceptance of Viptera and Duracade also involves you, the grower.

If you've missed the news over the past few months, China has kicked back at least 900,000 tons of U.S. corn because it was found to contain Viptera, a genetically engineered (GE) trait that protects corn against ear-feeding insects.

Syngenta is introducing a new GE corn rootworm trait called Agrisure Duracade for planting this spring. Duracade does not have regulatory approval in China and according to Syngenta, is not likely to receive clearance by 2014 harvest. The grain industry has publically asked Syngenta to hold the trait until all importing countries have signed off on the trait. The company has refused, maintaining it has cleared all the necessary hurdles for commercialization as set forth by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

What Syngenta did do was restrict the geographic scope of the Duracade launch in 2014 and sign an agreement with Gavilon Grain to appropriately funnel the grain.

Still, there's been a lot of finger pointing on this issue. The grain industry is hot because they feel the financial fallout of the rejected grain. Additional handling and testing requires time and resources.

For its part, Syngenta doesn't want to shelve a new product because one import market is suddenly choking. They have stockholders that like to see return on research and development investments. Patents have a life too.

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China has a cumbersome regulatory process, but Viptera has been under the microscope for four years in that country. Syngenta Seeds President David Morgan told DTN in an interview that other traits -- including Syngenta's ethanol trait called Enogen -- have leapfrogged Viptera in the approval process.

"This is a trait (Viptera) that has been scrutinized by 10 or more other governments with the very same data package that was given to the Chinese. Everyone else is happy with it and has approved it," Morgan said.

"Look, it seems coincidental that it comes at a time of declining commodity prices and record corn crops in China and what looks to be expensive corn contracts for the Chinese," he said.

Let's be clear: the Viptera trait is a horse that has left the barn. Morgan said Syngenta has licensed it to 100 different seed companies and it is being planted in Canada and South America. China wasn't considered a major market when Syngenta launched the trait in 2010. Now that China has come to the table, the trait is already well integrated into the grain stream.

Duracade is another matter. Syngenta could have had backed off and kept Duracade out of the market for 2014. China will consider traits only after they've been approved in the U.S. and generally, that involves a two-year lag. Syngenta submitted the Agrisure Duracade dossier in March 2013 for Chinese review.

While Syngenta may be the company currently in the crosshairs, other companies could, and likely will, find themselves in the same position as new technologies come to market. Monsanto's Genuity DroughtGard products do not currently have regulatory approval in the European Union (EU). Granted, the EU is not buying a whopping amount of U.S. grain right now, but there are still some market implications.

Meanwhile, be careful where you point fingers. U.S. farmers are clamoring for more traits to fight insects and weeds. We've done a poor job of shepherding single Bt technologies and now need reinforcements to fight against resistance. You may not live in a region where rootworm is troublesome, but do you want new herbicide trait technologies held hostage when the times comes?

The industry needs to come together to find a better way to handle these approval issues and growers need to be part of that discussion. Farmers face stiff stewardship requirements that make them liable, along with grain handlers, for making sure grain goes into domestic and/or export channels that have approved the trait for import. Yes, grain elevators will have access to tests that allow detection of Duracade.

The stewardship agreement with these traits includes a long list of recommendations that range from planting border rows to avoid pollen drift to proper planter, combine, storage bin and truck cleanout. If you aren't willing to jump through these hoops, ask your seed company if you can swap for a different technology.

Go into this planting season with your eyes open as to the risks and benefits. Know what traits you are growing. Communicate with your grain buyer. We'll all sleep a little better if we follow through and keep our grain stream clean this fall.

A good place to monitor corn trait acceptance can be found at the NCGA Know Before You Grow Website:….

Pamela Smith can be reached at


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