From his combine window, Stephen Sears could see the future last fall. One of a handful of experimental-use growers of YieldGard in 2002, the Joes, Colo., grower believes his future in corn production will be bright because of biotechnology. “YieldGard is a boost as far as production is concerned, and it cuts my use of insecticide.”

Monsanto received full registration for its new YieldGard Rootworm insect-protection corn technology in late February. “Under a million acres” of the first biotech corn designed to control corn rootworm will be available for the 2003 planting season, company officials say. In the future, Monsanto plans to offer YieldGard Rootworm stacked with both Roundup Ready corn and YieldGard Cornborer corn under the trade name “YieldGard Plus” once EPA registration is completed.

At a press conference at the Commodity Classic held in Charlotte, N.C., Monsanto Company officials and growers discussed the benefits of YieldGard. Japan has given its okay for the technology; the company has applied for approval in the European Union. Monsanto expects to have registration with states before planting season.

YieldGard's registration is “great news for hundreds of seed companies and tens of thousands of U.S. farmers who are seeing the benefits of biotech products,” says Jennifer Ozimkiewiz, Monsanto marketing manager for corn traits. The trait will be available in Monsanto's DeKalb and Asgrow seed businesses as well as through licensed, independent seed companies.

Growers will have to plant a 20 percent refuge of non-YieldGard corn within or adjacent to a planted field.

Corn rootworm is a “billion-dollar bug” for corn growers, hurting especially in the Corn Belt. In field tests over the last three years, YieldGard offers producers “superior rootworm control and better consistency versus other corn rootworm insecticides and seed treatment” and “less overall use of insecticides.

“Reduced insecticide application are one of the significant benefits,” says Todd DeGooyer, Monsanto technical development manager for YieldGard.

“Biotechnology is reducing the farmers' input costs, improving their returns and allowing them to reduce the amount of insecticide they use while controlling damaging insect pests,” Ozimkiewicz says.

Producers often have to spray three times to control the corn rootworm. The technology has a 12-bushel per acre advantage over leading rootworm insecticides, according to a two-year yield trial study. Against an untreated check, YieldGard had a 19-bushel per acre advantage. “This is the future,” says Stephen Sears, a Colorado corn producer.

In an interview, he likened biotechnology to going to the moon. “This is the first step and just the beginning.”

Looking at his own operation of 4,500 acres of corn, Sears believes biotechnology will allow him to use less insecticide and “farm till I'm 89 — if I live that long.”

In terms of yield, YieldGard means an additional 5 to 7 bushels per acre. “I call it a better mouse trap,” he says. He says the price should be comparable with granular insecticides. “It's certainly worth that and a little bit more.”

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com