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The large productivity gains in corn production made during the last several decades have come primarily from advanced plant breeding techniques and improved management of the crop.
Since 1996, corn products with biotechnology traits and associated agronomic practices have contributed to the steady increase in corn production by reducing pest and environmental stresses on highly productive new corn genetics. Genetically modified corn products (GM) have increased corn production over a wide range of growing conditions, helping promote yield stability and reduce production risks. Conventional corn products may offer lower seed costs and market premiums, but may require more intensive weed, insect, and other management practices that can result in higher overall costs, lower stress tolerance, or lower yield potential.
Improved production practices and stress tolerance in corn products can help achieve maximum yield potential, which may allow a farmer to maximize net profits. A recently published analysis of 20 years of field research trials shows that GM corn has a number of benefits over conventional corn.6 The study evaluated 948 GM and 1250 conventional corn products.
The benefits for GM corn found in this research include:
For example, University of Wisconsin research shows that farmers planting GM corn products in a corn-on-corn rotation in 2000 had a lower potential risk of low yield (175 bu/acre) than farmers using a conventional corn-on-corn rotation. In 2005, the negative impact of the corn-on-corn rotation was not apparent for GM corn products but was still a problem in conventional corn-on-corn rotation.6
Corn is very sensitive to early-season weed competition and loss of corn yield potential can begin soon after planting. The critical period of weed competition is variable. Roundup Ready®2 Technology provides crop safety and flexible application timing to adjust glyphosate applications to the scope and intensity of the weed infestation in each field to reduce the risk of lost yield potential. Benefits include:
European corn borer, corn earworm, western bean cutworm, fall armyworm, and corn rootworm feeding can cause stress and injury to plant tissues. This damage can reduce yield potential or allow fungi to infect, proliferate, and produce mycotoxins which have the potential to cause health problems in animals and humans.8,9,10 Insect protection in GM corn products protects the plant parts these insects feed on which can reduce the risks of lost yield potential or lower grain quality. Conversely, insecticide applications require precise application timing, rates, and coverage, and may affect non-target organisms.
Farmers planting GM corn products with herbicide resistance and multiple mode of action insect protection traits can realize higher yield potential by using intensive corn management practices to:
GM products protect corn yield potential and provide other benefits. The PG Economics annual report on the impact of GM crops shows that GM crops are credited with decreasing pesticide and fuel use, facilitating conservation tillage practices that reduce soil erosion, improving carbon retention, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.13
Sources: 1Mansfield, B.D. and R.H. Mumm. 2013. Survey of plant density tolerance in U.S. maize germplasm. Crop Science 54:157-173. 2Duvick, D.N. 2005. Genetic progress in yield of United States maize (Zea mays L.). Maydica 50:193-202. 3Lee, E.A., and M. Tollenaar. 2007. Physiological basis of successful breeding strategies for maize grain yield. Crop Sci. 47:S202–S215. 4Tollenaar, M., and E.A. Lee. 2002. Yield potential, yield stability and stress tolerance in maize. Field Crops Res. 75:161–169. 5Tollenaar, M., and J. Wu. 1999. Yield improvement in temperate maize is attributable to greater stress tolerance. Crop Sci. 39:1597–1604. 6Chavas, J., G. Shi, and J. Lauer. 2014. The effects of GM technology on maize yield. Crop Sci. 54:1331-335. 7Edgerton, M.D., J. Fridgen, J.R. Anderson Jr., J. Ahlgrim, M. Criswell, P. Dhungana, T. Gocken, Z. Li, S. Mariappan, C.D. Pilcher, A. Rosielle, and S.B. Stark. 2012. Transgenic insect resistance traits increase corn yield and yield stability. Nature Biotech. 30:493–496. 8National Research Council. 2010. The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States. National Academies Press. 9 Folcher, L, Delos, M, Marengue, E, Jarry, M, Weissenberger, A, Eychenne, N, and Regnault-Roger, C. 2010. Lower mycotoxin levels in Bt maize grain. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 30: 711-719. 10Hutchison, W.D. et al. 2010. Areawide suppression of European corn borer with Bt maize reaps savings to non-Bt maize growers. Science 330:222–225.11Haegele, J.W. and F.E. Below. 2013. Transgenic corn rootworm protection increases grain yield and nitrogen use of maize. Crop Science 53:585-594. 12Hartnell G. F. 2010. Feeding transgenic feedstuffs to cattle. Proc. 21st Florida Ruminant Nutr. Symp., University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. 13Brookes, G. and Barfoot, P. 2014 GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2012. PG Economics Ltd, Dorchester, UK. 14Mitchell, P. et al. 2009. Information and the Use of New Technology: Evidence from Seeding Density Decisions of U.S. Corn Farmers. UW AAE Applied Economics Workshop, University of Wisconsin. 15Wu, F. 2006. Mycotoxin reduction in Bt corn: Potential economic, health, and regulatory impacts. Transgenic Research:15 277-279. 16Castillo-Lopez, E, Clark, K.J, Paz, H.A, Ramirez Ramirez, H. A, Klusmeyer, T.H, Hartnell, G.F, Kononoff, P.J. 2014. Performance of dairy cows fed silage and grain produced from second-generation insect-protected (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn (MON 89034), compared with parental line corn or reference corn. J. Dairy Sci. 97 :3832–3837. 17Munkvold. G.P. and R.L. Hellmich. 1999. Genetically modified insect resistant corn: Implications for disease management. APSnet. 141015200843