Reducing Bt corn acreage to cut production costs

European corn borer larva and damage
European corn borer larva and damage. Photo: Bruce Potter.

The economics of corn production challenge many farmers with minimizing losses per acre. One area some farmers have targeted for reducing costs is hybrid selection.

Planting corn hybrids without Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins for protection against European corn borer (ECB), corn rootworm or both will greatly reduce seed costs.

Yield potential

However, if you’re not careful, you could inadvertently reduce crop revenues if you select hybrids without considering yield potential or insect populations in your fields.

Yield potential is the first thing to consider when selecting a corn hybrid. Bt traits only protect the yield potential of a hybrid; yield benefits only occur when targeted insects are above economic levels.

When insect pressure is low or absent, economic benefit with trait-protected hybrids only occurs if higher costs are offset by greater yields. Switching to less expensive non-Bt seed can be a good strategy when yields are comparable or when seed cost savings exceed any reduced yield potential plus prospective insect losses.

Planting corn without a Bt trait can work in many fields, if you recognize your insect risk.

European corn borer (ECB)

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Corn rootworm

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Moving away from Bt traits

Keep in mind three important considerations if you move away from Bt traits to reduce costs:

  1. Bt traits are a form of insurance. Moving away from Bt traits means you’re assuming the risk of insect attack and its management.

  2. Risk is generally low right now for European corn borer and corn rootworms, but the risk isn’t gone.

  3. You can either choose to ignore that risk (and accept the potential yield loss in your fields) or minimize that risk through active management (scouting plus insecticides).

Bruce Potter, integrated pest management specialist, Southwest Research and Outreach Center, Ken Ostlie, Extension entomologist and Bill Hutchison, Extension entomologist

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the funding provided by the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council.

We would also like to thank those who helped with the fall survey: Eric Burkness, Dr. Phil Glogoza, Dr. Angie Peltier, Dr. Michael Goblirsch and Travis Vollmer.

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