The U.S. Grains Council is urging farmers who plant Syngenta's Agrisure Duracade seed this spring to follow strict protocols to ensure traces of the crop do not end up contaminating overseas shipments to countries that have not yet approved the trait.
The U.S. approved Duracade for sale and cultivation last year and Syngenta says the seed will be available in limited quantities this spring. Duracade expresses a unique protein – eCry3.1Ab – to deliver protection against Western corn rootworm, Northern corn rootworm and Mexican corn rootworm.
Rootworms are estimated to cost U.S. farmers $1 billion annually in yield loss and treatment expenses. The new trait could be a welcome tool for some farmers worried about expanding rootworm resistance.
Leakage of unapproved traits into the export stream could disrupt trade and even close major markets altogether, the council warns. That's what happened last fall when China, the world's fastest growing food importer, rejected a shipment of more than 600,000 tons of U.S. corn and corn products that contained another unauthorized Syngenta trait, Agrisure Viptera. That trait has been awaiting approval in China for two years.
"Inadvertent co-mingling is almost certain to occur in the high volume U.S. commodity handling system, and modern testing methods are likely to detect even trace levels of unapproved events," says Tom Sleight, CEO at USGC. "The presence of unapproved events in the export stream carries a significant risk of major international trade disruptions."
Some grain buyers holding out
Major grain buyers ADM, Bunge Ltd and Cargill Inc. have all indicated they will not buy Duracade crops until overseas buyers like China and the European Union approve the new trait. Grain trader Gavilon, owned by Marubeni Corp, has agreed to accept Duracade at market price while providing stewardship and distribution services for producers.
The Grains Council warning came at the Commodity Classic, which opened Wednesday in San Antonio, Texas. The council's main focus is to build international markets for U.S. barley, corn, grain sorghum and their products.
The market for Duracade will be limited in 2014. According to a Reuters report, a Syngenta spokesman says Duracade may be grown on as many as 700,000 acres this year. But according to the National Grain and Feed Association, plantings may be about half that amount.
"If we're going to maintain global food security for the future we need these (seed) technologies," says Julius Schaaf, an Iowa farmer and USGC chairman. "They are making us more sustainable, we're using less water, less fertilizer and we're losing less soil. We know China has a sincere interest in embracing this technology. But right now it's a very complex situation in China and that's the way we have to treat it.
"As a farmer, I can't tell you how critical it is that American farmers be fully aware of the consequences to their own grain market if they don't adhere to these stewardship protocols," Schaaf adds. "But, I have faith in the American farmer."