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2-Plants: Bt trait might have saved corn crops

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Genetics may have saved corn crops
SOURCE: Medill News Service, USA, by Alexander V. Ragir / Northwest
Indiana Times
DATE:   30 Sep 2005

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Genetics may have saved corn crops
Government predicts second-highest output despite drought conditions

The corn harvest after this summer's drought may turn 2005 into a
hallmark year in the genetic modification of plants, industry
participants said Thursday.

If government predictions are correct, corn production this year will be
the second-highest in U.S. history, despite the droughts in major corn-
producing states, such as Indiana and Illinois. Corn experts give much
credit to the widespread use of corn that has been genetically modified
to protect from bugs, making them more resilient to adverse weather

"This year is the fourth-driest summer in 100 years with over 60 percent
of the U.S. grain belt in a drought, yet we're seeing yields that are far

than before," said Tim Hannagan, senior grain analyst at Alaron Trading
Corp, a Chicago-based futures trading firm.

Last year's yield of 11.81 billion bushels is the U.S. record . This
year, the government's predicted yield is 10.6 billion bushels.

"Ten years ago without genetically altered corn, (the drought) may have
cut production by two to two and a half billion bushels," Hannagan said.
This year, the decline is about 1.2 billion bushels, he said.

The last time it was this hot was the summer of 1995. That drought,
although more severe, stifled production. The corn price doubled that
year, reaching a high of $5.50 a bushel. But now, corn futures expiring
in December closed at the Chicago Board of Trade on Thursday at $2.034 a

The reason: Corn is a completely different product, said Gerry Gidel, a
crop analyst at Midland Research Inc. in Chicago. "Weather now has just a

modest impact on the harvest," he said.

Illinois production this year lagged, but the decline was nothing
compared to a decade ago when the average bushels produced per acre in
Illinois was 113, according to the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics
Service. As of Sept. 1 this year, the estimated average was 136, compared
with last year's

record-breaking average of 180 bushels, according to the service, said
Brad Schwab, the director of the service's Illinois field office.

Many Illinois farmers use genetically modified corn for protection
against corn borer and rootworm, corn's most damaging insect pests.
"These farmers certainly capitalized on this," said Schwab.

In 2005, one in three bushels of Illinois corn was genetically modified.

More than half of the nation's corn is genetically modified. Schwab said
other regions use more genetically modified crops generally because of
tougher growing conditions.

But traditional breeding methods used to improve corn seed are still more
effective than creating genetically modified seeds, said Rodney
Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association.
But the two taken together have changed the farmer's life, he said.
"Weather is becoming less

important," he stated. "But it still is the most important."

For fifth-generation farmer Leon Corzine, genetically modified crops have
changed his life in more ways than just how intently he listens to the
weatherman. Harvests on his soybean and corn farm in Assumption, Ill.,
have grown by 30 percent in the seven years he has been using the technology.

"We especially raised the lower end yield," said Corzine, president of
the National Corn Growers Association. All of his soybeans and a quarter
of his corn are genetically modified. He said he's enjoyed "dramatic"
spending reductions on herbicides and gas for his farm machinery. Corzine
runs the farm with his wife, son and two grandchildren under the promise
to his family that he will "leave the farm in a better way" than he got
it, he said.

With less pesticide on his crops because of this technology, his
grandchildren can play without worrying about being exposed to toxic

"It's really about my grandchildren," he said.


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