Transgenic corn hybrids may differ in performance from non-genetically modified varieties in response to various insect pests, but the same recommendations apply when selecting hybrids for planting.

Peter Thomison, an Ohio State University (OSU) Extension agronomist, says that growers who intend to plant transgenic hybrids should eye such performance characteristics as yield potential, stalk quality and grain moisture.

“The same recommendations we make for planting non-transgenic hybrids apply equally to planting hybrids that carry genetically modified traits,” says Thomison, who also holds a research appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. “The traits that the hybrid has shouldn’t dictate what growers will plant. It all depends on how well-adapted these base genetics are to Ohio’s environmental conditions.”

Transgenics is the science of introducing a gene from one organism or plant into the genome of another organism or plant. In crop production, Bt corn to control European corn borer and rootworm, and Round-Up Ready corn and soybeans for enhanced weed control would be examples of transgenics.

Transgenic hybrids are becoming more popular in Ohio. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 40% of Ohio’s 2007 corn crop consisted of biotech varieties, 15% more than last year. Of the three main biotechnology types – insect resistant, herbicide resistant and stacked genes – farmers grew more stacked-gene varieties, increasing their acreage by 15% over last year.

Thomison and his colleagues will report a significant increase in transgenic corn hybrids in this year’s OSU Extension Corn Performance Trials. The trials evaluate corn hybrids in several Ohio locations on a variety of performance characteristics. The results are intended to aid growers in making planting decisions for their given production situation.

“Five years ago, less than 15% of the hybrids we evaluated in our performance trials were transgenic. This year, that number is 85% or more,” says Thomison. “Of that 85%, the majority are stacked-trait hybrids.

Thomison says that the decision to plant transgenics should be driven by economics.

“Growers who have or expect significant cost problems with European corn borer or western corn rootworm, or see an effective use of herbicide resistance in their cropping systems, should consider transgenics,” says Thomison. “But if these are not major considerations or issues, then seed cost may favor using non-transgenics.”

Thomison says that the challenge for growers in the future won’t be picking the best transgenic hybrid, but finding field performance information on non-transgenic varieties as transgenics become more popular.

“It may become increasingly difficult for growers to get good information on the performance of non-transgenic hybrids simply because there won’t be as much information out there,” says Thomison. “Growers are concerned that their options will be limited. From a cost standpoint, they don’t want to pay for features they may not need, but from a production standpoint, fewer transgenics will be available in the future.”
Look for the results of OSU Extension’s 2007 Corn Performance Trials this winter by logging on to http://agcrops.osu.edu/corn.