Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Sales, sales, sales! It’s that time of year again and producers are searching for a deal and dealers are hoping to provide one. If you listen to the radio, read the paper or other publications, you are being bombarded with advertisements. So what are they really selling you? I can’t give you recommendations on exact products to buy because I represent a non-partisan organization and I haven’t evaluated the products myself. What I can offer over the next few weeks is knowledge on what to look for in a product.

We’re going to start off big with genetics! We have been genetically modifying plants for thousands of years. Plant breeding has advanced from selecting for traits by traditional methods (which we still do) to gene insertion. We can now identify a single gene we want from any organism and insert it into the genome of our favorite plant creating a genetically modified organism (GMO). This was done years ago with the gene for luciferase (an enzyme you find in fireflies) and tobacco creating tobacco that glows in the dark!

In agriculture we use this technology mostly for herbicide and insect resistance in crop plants. The two main herbicides we deal with in the GMO world are glyphosate and glufosinate. Glufosinate is marketed as Ignite 280 SL but glyphosate is marketed under many names like Roundup, Buccaneer, Touchdown, etc… Both herbicides are considered broad spectrum, killing all but resistant plants, and are very effective. Management of these products is key since we already have weeds resistant to glyphosate and if glufosinate is applied continually season after season we will undoubtedly see the same problems arise. These products should be used as a part of a weed management plan that rotates crops, herbicide modes of action, and herbicide resistant traits.

In our area GM insect resistance in crops is limited to corn, although other crops do have traits. Insect resistance started with Bt corn which got its name from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. Scientists inserted a gene from the bacteria into the crop that encodes a protein that disrupts the insect’s digestive system. Looking at a product book you can get lost in names like Herculex, Yieldguard, Optimum Acremax, and Smartstax. Which insect do they control? Who makes it? Luckily some enterprising individuals at MSU and Wisconsin put together a list of the traits and what insects they control. We have the chart available here at The Ohio State University Extension Office, and online at This chart also includes refuge information for each product.

You might be wondering what the “type of Bt” column is. Those are the identifiers for the genes or the proteins that the genes encode for. If you compare the genes responsible for resistance you’ll notice there is overlap between brands. It is common practice for a company to develop a trait and license it to their competitors. Of note is the limited number of genes we have for corn borer and corn rootworm control. Like herbicides these traits need to be managed properly with crop rotation and refuge establishment to prevent the selection for resistant insects.

In a world of hi-tech hybrids non-GMO crops may seem passé but they are still a very viable option. However they can require a little more time in the field to make sure pests are not causing economic losses. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Leaving footprints in the field is the only way to truly know what is going on out there. I can sell you everything under the sun but to know if you need it or if it even works requires time spent in the field. If you don’t have enough time to spend in your fields there are plenty of companies out there who will take your place, for a nominal fee of course. For more information on your options for insect, disease, and weed management you can make an appointment here at the Extension Office. Contact Justin Petrosino at 548-5215 or

Justin Petrosino, ANR Extension Educator, OSU Extension, Darke County

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