Trying to alleviate issues with GM corn

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For more than two years, Syngenta has been dealing with grain from Agrisure Viptera-traited corn not being accepted by China, and for 2014, the company had to establish a way to handle the Chinese not accepting grain from another new corn trait—Agrisure Duracade.

Both corns are genetically modified (GM). GM corn hasn’t been a problem for the Chinese approving acceptance of corn from the U.S. in the past. China has approved importing various GM corns from the United States because the large majority of the corn grown here is GM for resistance to insects or specific herbicides.

For unexplained reasons, the Chinese have refused to approve the Viptera trait stacked corn, which provides above- and below-ground insect control, during more than two years of delays.

Instead of waiting for China and having another bottleneck in exporting the new Duracade-traited corn, which also has new corn rootworm (CRW) control technology, Syngenta went on the offensive for its introduction of Duracade. Syngenta established an agreement with Gavilon Grain, LLC that provides grain marketing opportunities for farmers who choose to plant hybrids containing Agrisure Duracade. The proactive campaign to help farmers grow corn with the Duracade trait and have grain marketing options is the “Right to Grow” campaign.

Right to Grow Details
“The intent of the Right to Grow program is to allow us to successfully launch Agrisure Duracade so that growers can experience the technology themselves and have the confidence that they will have somewhere to market the grain,” says David Elser, Syngenta, Right to Grow spokesperson.

Syngenta is establishing a launch zone for Agrisure Duracade hybrids, which was being finalized at the end of February. The zone and launch campaign was established after consultation with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and Gavilon officials, notes Elser.

Gavilon will be accepting the Duracade grain at market price while providing stewardship and distribution services for producers. There are two parts to the stewardship; first by growers to make sure the grain is grown for domestic use and not put into export channels, and second by Gavilon to identity-preserve the grain in storage and shipping channels.

“In supporting farmers who choose to grow Agrisure Duracade, we will demonstrate the supply chain’s capability to expand beyond the basic commodity model in grain marketing, which is the future of market access for U.S. grains,” says Jim Anderson, Gavilon chief operating officer.

There will be discussion with Duracade corn growers “to insure that the growers understand that either the local feed mill down the road is able to take the corn or if it will need to be hauled 30 miles away and how that can easily be worked out,” adds Elser.

“We are pleased to see Syngenta’s efforts to administer a limited trait release of Agrisure Duracade that seeks to balance the importance of maintaining farmers’ access to technology while maintaining markets for U.S. corn,” says Martin Barbre, president of the NCGA.

China Export Problems
Three large grain exporters, Bunge Ltd., ADM and Cargill, in late February strongly indicated they would not be accepting grain that contains Duracade-traited corn. They don’t want to be in the middle of another situation like what occurred with the Viptera corn.

All three grain companies were quoted as suggesting that they don’t want to handle grain that has not been approved in all the major export markets. Duracade has European tolerance levels, not what is typically classified as full approval, and nothing close to any approval in China. Although import totals vary from year to year, China could typically import about 15 percent of the U.S. corn exports.

This year is the third year for Viptera corn to be planted in the United States, and grain marketers know that it has been going into the general corn marketing channels. Because farmers have appreciated the way the Viptera-traited corn has helped them improve yields, Elser says, “We don’t see much change in the way that we have been handling Agrisure Viptera at this juncture.”

Some grain merchandisers have refused to buy Viptera-traited grain, but grain with the trait has slipped through because not every load of grain has been tested for the trait due to the added expense.

For those grain companies shipping to China, Elser says, “The grain trade is obligated to know what they are shipping overseas.”

The Chinese as of November began rejecting shiploads of grain containing Agrisure Viptera-traited corn. As of February, some 600,000 tons of U.S. corn have been rejected by the Chinese because of Viptera contamination. Viptera-traited corn is also referred to as MIR162.

In fact, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) estimates that China’s rejection of GM corn has cost grain companies $427 million in lost sales and rerouted shipments. Grain companies have been frustrated by China’s erratic process of approving and rejecting GM crop strains in the world’s fastest-growing corn market.

A further blow was China’s recent acceptance of Brazilian corn imports. It also has stepped up imports from the Ukraine. Argentina, Peru, Thailand and Laos have been approved to import to China as well.

There was some knee-jerk reaction as the NGFA and the North American Export Grain Association reportedly asked Syngenta to suspend the commercialization of Duracade corn and even suspend Viptera seed sales.

The Right to Grow program should answer the biggest share of critics about Duracade, and suspension of Viptera seed sales as of last November would have been nearly impossible based on the seed production schedule. Growers had bought Viptera seed and continued to buy it knowing the export and grain merchandisers’ positions on accepting or rejecting the grain.

Trying to get China to operate in a business style similar to other international powers is difficult, but it would alleviate a lot of agricultural trade issues. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was quoted as saying, “We have been working with the Chinese to try to get their regulatory process to be more accepting of biotechnology.”

Editor’s Note: Rich Keller is editor of AgProfessional, a Vance Publishing sister publication.


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