Monday, July 18, 2011


Bt corn revolutionized how farmers grow corn. The Bt gene is so powerful that scientists convinced EPA to require seed companies to sell only 80% of their genetically modified seed corn to farmers. Farmers agree to plant 20% of their acres to non BT corn when they buy their seed to plant.

Each year companies collect data to show EPA that indeed farmers do plant 20% of their corn crop to non BT corn. This is called IRM or Insect Resistance Management.

I have been interviewing farmers to obtain their data from company lists since Bt corn came out. We are busy visiting with those farmers right now.

The job was easier when we only had BT corn but as new traits were added for root worm protection and hybrids were sold with "stacked genes" the job had become more complicated.

Basically I find out how many acres the farmer planted and how many of those acres were non BT and how the other acres were spread amongst the many company traits available. I love talking to farmers so it behooves me to make it simple when I audit them for compliance.

I try to make it as simple as possible yet make sure I find out what they planted and what they understand among these complicated trait packages today. SmartStax has confused it even more since it only requires a 5% acreage refuge instead of the 20% for other trait packages.

It hasn't caught on too well so most farmers have stacked and non GMO hybrids. That makes it simpler for me if they do but it all must be reported so the trait company owner can prove farmers are following the refuge rules.

Lots of farmers don't want to be troubled by this but it's my job and helps EPA recertifying the traits they are buying. One audit I remember was in Pennsylvania and I stopped to check a young Amish farmer plowing tobacco with a horse and his two little boys right behind.

He didn't know what he planted so he became worried. I asked him if he still had the seed sacks and he ran inside the barn and came out with 3 empty sacks. I read the labels and he had two bags of Bt corn and one non GMO so his ratio was 33% non BT, well within the requirement. I told him that was good and to sign the form I filled out. You would have thought he won the lottery he was so happy.

Another guy ran a junk yard and didn't want me around so he wouldn't answer my questions. I reported that and did the same thing the next year on the re-inpsection. The next year I heard he got busted for some crime, the farm was sold and he was in jail.

Those are extreme examples as most farmers understand the science, plant the refuge and report it to me. We usually end up talking about farming, the weather, notill and how we farm at home.

It doesn't pay much but it's a fun little project.

Respect the IRM.


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