After a year with few new corn hybrid traits, the 2003 marketplace promises some new biotech options as well as improvements on solid performers.

For the first time, growers may be able to buy corn rootworm-resistant hybrids. Monsanto is ready to roll out the new hybrids if it receives all the federal approvals in time for the 2003 season.

A new trait that has all its federal approvals is Herculex I, a Bt corn trait that also protects against black cutworm. Dow (Mycogen) and Pioneer developed Herculex and have included it in several of their elite hybrids.

Other major seed companies have focused on hybrids with improved standability and performance. Plus, companies are filling out their hybrid lines to make traits such as Bt available in all maturity ranges.

Check out the new hybrids at field plots this fall and put in orders early. The new traits will be in limited supply.

Here's a look at what several major seed companies plan to offer for 2003.

Monsanto

Northeast Colorado with its concentration of irrigation systems contains some of the most corn rootworm-infested soils in the U.S. Growers here have planted corn-on-corn for years, giving the insect plenty of time to establish permanent residency. Monsanto headed to this area to test its new YieldGard Rootworm hybrid. And with good results.

Growers like Kevin Penny were anxious to try the new hybrid in field tests. The Burlington, CO, grower struggles against a heavy corn rootworm infestation, using three different insecticides in one season. “We still had fields we couldn't tell what row we were in due to goosenecking,” he says. “We need this technology.”

Penny backs up Monsanto's field research that shows YieldGard Rootworm hybrids outperformed hybrids treated with insecticide and untreated hybrids. Using the Iowa State University root-rating system, Monsanto reports the corn rootworm-resistant hybrids rated between 1 and 2 versus an average rating of 4.6 for a popular insecticide and a 5 to 6 rating for untreated hybrids.

After field testing the new hybrid, Penny is ready to buy it for his operation. He considers it safer and more effective than insecticides. He can sell the grain from his test fields to local cattle yards because FDA has approved it for food and feed use.

YieldGard Rootworm will require a 20% refuge, similar to the refuge requirement for Bt corn products. The new hybrids will be offered in 95- to 114-day maturities.

Monsanto hopes the approvals will come soon so the new hybrids will be available for the 2003 growing season. Ironically, the hybrid is approved for export to Japan, which completed its regulatory review in February.

Mycogen

The 2003 seed catalog from Mycogen shows a new Bt trait for corn borer control called Herculex I. The new trait is listed on 10 of Mycogen's new hybrids. Why? According to the company, Herculex I provides control of black cutworm and fall armyworm in addition to its corn borer resistance, offering the broadest spectrum of in-plant insect protection currently available.

The new trait also offers intermediate control of corn earworm and tolerance to over-the-top applications of Liberty herbicide.

Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer Hi-Bred International jointly developed Herculex I and received EPA and FDA registrations last fall. But they delayed the sale of Herculex I until after June, when Japan also approved it for import.

Mycogen, a subsidiary of Dow, will market Herculex I. In addition, Dow AgroSciences will license the technology to other seed companies in the future.

Dow and Pioneer continue to collaborate on the development of additional insect protection traits. Specifically, researchers from both companies are working together on a corn rootworm-resistant hybrid that will be released after they have tested it and received regulatory approvals.

Pioneer

Pioneer also will market hybrids with the Herculex I trait. The company believes the Herculex I trait will attract growers who need black cutworm resistance along with corn borer protection.

“It will be as good as other Bts for European and southwestern corn borer and a little better than other Bts for fall armyworm,” reports Kyle Whitaker, corn product communications manager. “But the real difference is it offers black cutworm resistance. It will be the only product out there in the industry that has that.” Hybrids with the Herculex I trait will be in limited supply for 2003.

Bt hybrids were in big demand this year, Whitaker adds, due to heavy corn borer pressure the previous year. Pioneer doesn't believe this demand will change.

For the first time, Pioneer is offering Roundup Ready (RR) hybrids. “We're not the first to market, but we want to be the best in the market,” Whitaker explains. “We will offer it in our elite genetics and will give good yield performance compared to other Roundup Ready hybrids in the market.” The 2003 supplies of RR hybrids will be in limited supply, too.

Pioneer plans to continue offering Gaucho seed treatments to handle a growing secondary insect problem. Whitaker credits the weather and no-till for the heavy activity of insects such as wireworm, seed corn maggot and white grub. He says the treatments are an inexpensive insurance policy to protect a crop.

The Johnston, IA-based company plans to release a corn rootworm-resistant hybrid in 2004 or 2005. Whitaker says it also will continue to work with seed treatments and to develop value-added traits for end-use products.

Syngenta Seeds

Focusing on high yields, Syngenta comes to the market in 2003 with 10 new hybrids, each boasting top yields for its geographic region. Five of the new NK brand hybrids include YieldGard insect protection and resistance to Liberty herbicides. Syngenta, like other seed companies, sees a continuing demand for biotech traits. If the demand is there, the product will follow.

“By selecting a portfolio of consistently performing hybrids, farmers can better manage the impact of varying growing conditions on product performance,” says Marc Hennen, corn marketing manager.

In addition, Syngenta is offering two new hybrids that provide herbicide resistance through the Clearfield production system. All NK brand corn hybrids are approved for export to the European Union and Japan.

Garst

Next year's corn products from Garst Seed include 29 new hybrids that should perform better than the hybrids they replace. “With our ‘best products’ strategy, we don't introduce new products unless they are significantly better than the hybrids they are targeted to replace or provide new solutions customers are demanding,” reports Jeff Sernett, corn product manager.

The new offerings include 13 RR hybrids and seven YieldGard corn borer hybrids, including three multiple-trait hybrids with both the YieldGard and RR traits. The rest of the new hybrids are conventional plus IT hybrids for the Clearfield Production system.

Sernett adds that Garst also looks at late-season plant health to enhance drydown and standability at harvest. “Yield is paramount, but there's a lot more to a top-performing hybrid that contributes value for our customers,” he says.

Stine

A focus on standability along with yield dominates the offerings from Stine Seed for next year. “Our highest-selling product line has extremely good standability,” reports David Thompson, marketing communications manager. “We're firm believers that in corn, you have two number ones: yield and getting the corn off the ground. We think this will be just as crucial next year.”

For 2003, the company is completing product lines of popular biotech traits such as Bt. Now the Bt trait will be available across an entire maturity line. The company also is adding new RR hybrids and its first Clearfield hybrid.

“Almost 50% of our products contain a special value-added trait,” Thompson says. The next one Stine hopes to offer is the corn rootworm-resistant trait, through cooperation with Monsanto.

JC Robinson/Golden Harvest

Next year's corn lineup from JC Robinson Seeds/Golden Harvest combines its genetics with other technologies. Jamie Williamson, northern regional sales manager, says the combination of genetics, technology and seed treatments will create hybrids with the best plant emergence available in the industry.

“We will also be increasing our product development efforts by 40% and introducing several new Bt hybrids that are resistant to European corn borer and stacked with Roundup Ready technology to help farmers with both insect and weed control,” says Lyn Ramsey, executive director of industry relations.

The company reports enthusiasm about updates related to the corn rootworm-resistant trait and plans to be involved in future discussions about this technology, pending EPA approval.

Fielder's Choice

Heading the list of what's new at Fielder's Choice is a new seed coating that promises to expand the planting window for corn by two to four weeks. The Intellicoat Early Plant coating lets seed start germination when soil temperatures reach 55°. If the soil cools down, the coating reverses and germination halts until temperatures warm up again. The coating also protects the seed from damage that occurs when the seed is left sitting for days in cold, wet soils.

The Intellicoat coating is a polymer made from natural fatty acids and restricts water absorption in cool temperatures. The polymer changes when temperatures rise and lets the seed absorb water. Landec Ag, which owns Fielder's Choice, developed this technology. The seed company offers the new coating on 20 hybrids. Company researchers as well as 500 farmers tested the seed coating. Estimated cost is $11/acre.

Another coating, Polinator Plus, is designed for the seed corn market. Because it is applied to male inbred seeds to delay germination in the field, split planting is eliminated.