Daily News Archive

November 6, 2001

BT Corn Costs Higher Than Returns

Corn seed genetically modified to contain the gene Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) may be eating up the profits of corn growers, according to A Purdue University agricultural economist. The corn was originally designed to stop the European corn borer from devouring corn plants.

Corn borer larvae feed on corn leaves and burrow into and through corn stalks, tassels and around ears. They can attack corn plants throughout the growing season. The corn is engineered to produce the Cry protein, which, when consumed, kills corn borers within a day or two.

The Purdue study found that higher priced Bt seed, combined with lower corn borer infestation levels and other issues, makes transgenic corn less attractive than traditional varieties for farmers in Indiana.

Marshall Martin was among a team of researchers at Purdue who studied the economic impact of planting Bt corn. Farmers at the eastern end of the nation's Corn Belt are less likely to recover the cost of planting Bt containing seed than producers further west, reported Mr. Martin. He explained, "Our European corn borer infestation level historically has been pretty low, so that the extra cost of the seed cannot be justified based on the number of bushels saved because you planted Bt corn to reduce damage. Also, we have here in the Eastern Corn Belt - and Indiana in particular - a number of companies that process corn for food uses, none of which now will accept any transgenic corn."

Analyzing a broad range of data, including crop yields and values, pesticide cost savings, and the technology fees companies factor into the price of genetically modified seed, Martin and his fellow researchers concluded that 40 percent of Indiana growers' crops would have to be threatened by corn borers to make the use of Bt corn seed financially viable.

The Purdue study, "The Economics of Bt Corn: Adoption Implications," is available through the Purdue Cooperative Extension, publication number ID-219.