Pesticide Use Increasing Among U.S. Corn Farmers

Corn pesticideCorn farmers are becoming increasingly concerned that some insects are resistant to genetically modified versions of crops. As a result, the use of pesticides among U.S. farmers is surging. When engineered corn was developed 17 years ago, it was supposed to kill pests without the need for pesticides. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, soil insecticide use plummeted 90 percent through 2010.

There is now controversy over whether marketing efforts by the chemical industry is responsible for the increase in pesticide use. Unfortunately, some experts believe that using pesticides now will worsen the problem later on. However, farmers are worried about controlling the most damaging U.S. corn pest—the western corn rootworm. Resistant bugs have been found in four states, even though Monsanto Co. designed its corn to kill them.

George Vassiliou is a market-oriented R&D professional with a globally recognized crop protection profile and proven track record of delivering development projects. He is a Professor of Pesticides and Ecotoxicology with over 15 years of experience in pesticide technology. He shares his opinion of the pesticide issue:

Avoiding development of Insect resistance in GM crops has always been an issue to regulators and environmentalists since their commercialization 17 years ago. In factit is a success of the applied resistance management strategy (mainly high dose/refuge plants) that signs of resistance have emerged so late. This is due to a number of reasons as low frequency of resistant alleles as well as a mixture of resistant alleles with susceptible individuals from non GM plants or ‘refuges.’ Speaking specially of Bts (Bacillus thurigiensis), a varying specificity to corn pests has been documented.

The strategy to overcome the problem cannot be different compared to strategies overcoming insecticide resistance in non GM crops:

1st case: Documented resistance. In this case only conventional insecticides with a totally different mode of action than Bts should be used at least for 2 to 3 years.. Thus,selection pressure by Bts will cease to exist.

2nd case: Non documented resistance. In this case resistance should be researched and scientifically documented. If confirmed measures as in case 1 should be followed. If not, measures as in case 3 should be followed.

3rd case: Precautionary measures to avoid development of resistance. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies which consider Bts as only one part of the pest management practices to be applied. Chemical control as well as other biological measures should constitute the rest of the IPM strategy.

It has to be noted that there are now compounds in the development pipeline which, when commercialized, are supposed to be expressed by genetically modified plants as defense proteins against insects.

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