A group of agricultural scientists reported in today's issue of the journal Science that corn that has been genetically engineered to produce insect-killing proteins isolated from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) provides significant economic benefits even to neighboring farmers who grow non-transgenic varieties of corn.
"Modern agricultural science is playing a critical role in addressing many of the toughest issues facing American agriculture today, including pest management and productivity," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This study provides important information about the benefits of biotechnology by directly examining how area-wide suppression of corn borers using Bt corn can improve yield and grain quality even of non-Bt varieties."
The researchers estimate that farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin received cumulative economic benefits of nearly $7 billion between 1996-2009, with benefits of more than $4 billion for non-Bt corn farmers alone. The scientists estimated that in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, borer populations in adjacent non-Bt fields declined by 28 to 73 percent, with similar reductions recorded in Iowa and Nebraska.
The researchers attribute the collateral benefits enjoyed by non-Bt farmers to areawide suppression of corn borers stemming from long-term plantings of Bt-protected crops. Potato, green bean and other host crops also stand to benefit from areawide reductions of corn borers, the researchers note. The team's Science report also highlights the importance of the use of refuge cropsthe planting of non-Bt crops adjacent to fields of Bt crops, providing a refuge to which the pests can retreatand other strategies to slow the corn borer's ability to develop resistance to Bt and thus maintain the insecticidal proteins' long-term effectiveness.
The Bt proteins provide the plant with a built-in defense against attac
|Contact: Jan Suszkiw|
United States Department of Agriculture -- Research, Education and Economics