Pest-Resistant Corn A Dud In '98, But Future Benefits Touted

KANSAS CITY: Planting corn altered to resist a specific pest did not pay off for growers last year but would offer benefits in seven out of 10 years, according to a National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) analysis. A similar cotton seed boosted 1998 profits by about $40 per acre. Factors including a lower-than-usual level of pest infestation and low commodity prices resulted in farmers not seeing financial benefits by planting what's known as Bt corn in 1998, according to Leonard Gianessi, senior research associate NCFAP. Gianessi presented his analysis at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last week. The corn, which has been spliced with genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, has been altered by scientists to resist the European corn borer, a pest blamed for some $1 billion in farmer costs and crop losses annually in the early 1990s. Farmers paid technology fees of about $8 per acre last year to plant Bt corn, Gianessi said, but with corn borer infestation averaging about 0.3% per plant, and corn prices averaging below $2 per bushel, farmers did not see a financial boost, despite increasing production by about 5 bushels per acre. "The technology did not pay for itself in '98," Gianessi said, adding that his analysis of price, cost, and infestation trends found "you're going to make money seven out of 10 years."

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