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Published August 31, 2010, 08:07 AM

Technologies rise to meet threats

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Syngenta is getting set to roll out its Agrisure Viptera 3111 trait stack for corn in 2011 — the latest of one company’s offerings in the competition between technology and crop pests.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Syngenta is getting set to roll out its Agrisure Viptera 3111 trait stack for corn in 2011 — the latest of one company’s offerings in the competition between technology and crop pests.

Roger Plooster, a Syngenta Seeds Inc. field agronomist for northern South Dakota, based in Brookings, S.D., recently welcomed a group of mostly dealers to the company’s new multi-million-dollar breeding facility which opened in March, for a three-day series of field days on corn and soybean genetics and protectants.

The so-called Viptera trait, the star of the show for the day, will be available in Syngenta-owned brands Golden Harvest, Garst and NK brands next year. Viptera is the first broad-range Lepidoptera trait to hit the market, controlling the whole multi-pest complex of pests in the Lepidoptera family, or associated with moths or butterflies.

Officials in the company say the company invests some $750 million in research and development annually, and plans to bring a half dozen in the next six years. The company has been doing corn research from Brookings since 1997.

The stage involves a new facility with a total of 22,000 square feet of breeding research facility, including 80 acres at Brookings and eight outside testing locations for corn. The center runs 60,000 corn plots and 36,000 soybean plots.

Pest prevention

During the tour, Plooster pointed to a scattering of corn ears on the floor in one of the shop area’s work facility, noting that farmers likely would complain to their genetics companies if their corn lost that much yield from ear worm loss. Yet, he says, even one of the 14 insect pests that the new Viptera technology controls can cause that much damage.

With 30,000 plants per acre average, a three kernel per ear loss equals 90,000 kernels, or about one bushel of lost yield. A typical loss from ear worm might be 14.3 bushels per acre. One healthy ear tends to average 540 kernals, so a 10 percent loss is 54 kernels.

Steve Hyronimus, a field agronomist based in Valley Springs, S.D., hosted one of the company’s demonstration plot stops. His showed off the Viptera trait’s complete control over 14 insects — European corn borer, corn earworm, western bean cutworm, and others.

For demonstration purposes, he kept a collection of pheromone traps in which he is catching male moths of various pest species, all susceptible to the new genetics. Syngenta has traps in 48 sites in the U.S. for which researchers monitor and collects weekly data on the timing of the moth flight.

Hyronimus, who recently moved to Syngenta but has held positions with various technology companies across the years, says levels of ear worm relatively have held constant in the past few years, but the black cutworm numbers are as high as they’ve ever been.

Plooster and others say this is the first of several traits developed from a new class of “vegetative insecticidal proteins”

“It’s the first true, new mode of action,” he says.

It combines the Agrisure 3000GT trait stack and the Viptera trait for a broad spectrum of above-and below-ground insects. The company promotes its so-called Vip3A trait as offering new control for the above-ground insects.

The VIP protein is different than the typical crystalline or “Cry” proteins used to control insect pests. Both are derived from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria. However, the VIP technology operates on a different part of the gut of the insect target. This offers farmers long-term help in resistance management.

Working for farmers

While not yet priced, the company’s goal is to price on a 3-to-1 ratio for farmers, meaning that for every $1 the farmer spends for a technology he should have an opportunity to get $3 back in the marketplace.

The Viptera corn trait theoretically can improve the farmer’s yield by 14.3 bushels per acre in a moderate or heavy ear worm infestation, with up to 32 bushels per acre in the face of “heavy pressure” from various insects.

Eric Stocker, a soybean technical product specialist, based in Peterson, Minn., says the company and its soybean breeders, are shifting attention past the Roundup Ready 1 technology to Roundup Ready 2 Yield technology because of yield components. He says it appears the technology seems to be associated with more nodes for soybeans and more clusters of pods per node, and in some cases more beans per pod. But he says that trait won’t be as big a factor for any variety moving forward as its general agronomics — things like standability, emergence and disease susceptibility.

Stocker says the Roundup Ready 2 technology doesn’t seem to have the yield drag that Roundup Ready 1 seemed to have when it was delivered in the mid-1990s.

“It’s a cleaner insertion of the gene into the varieties,” he says.