Farm industry groups want to remind farmers that they’re the first line of defense in protecting U.S. export markets, especially when it comes to harvesting and marketing corn that contains traits not approved by key importers.
“It’s really critical now as we move into harvest” that farmers are good stewards of unapproved biotech trains, American Soybean Association president Ray Gaesser told DTN on the sidelines of the U.S. Global Trade Exchange conference.
Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera (MIR 162) and Duracade traits haven’t been approved for import into China, and that country’s zero-tolerance policy on presence of unapproved traits ups the ante.
“All it takes is a kernel or two of corn in a shipload,” Gaesser said. If China detects a few kernels of corn with unapproved traits, even if it’s in a vessel containing soybeans, the whole load will be rejected.
During the past marketing year, the presence of the unapproved MIR 162 trait caused rejections of corn, soybeans and dried distillers grains shipments. Corn and DDG trade with China ground to a halt. The cost to U.S. growers, grain handlers and exporters could swell to $3.4 billion in the 2014-15 marketing year from $2.9 billion the previous year, according to a National Grain and Feed Association analysis completed in June. Cargill recently sued Syngenta Seeds in a Louisiana state court for damages related to rejected shipments. Other grain and feed exporters are reported to be filing additional suits.
ADM issued a statement saying it has “not yet made a formal decision on what actions it will take. However, as we have said in the past, wide-scale planting of traits that aren’t approved by key importing countries diminish the competitiveness of American grain and feed exports.”
In a soy association statement released Wednesday morning, Gaesser said, “As American farmers, we are particularly fortunate to work with so many innovative technology partners, each of whom provides us with revolutionary technology in the field. Unfortunately, some approval systems around the world, including China’s and the European Union’s, aren’t working as timely as we’d like.
“Because of this, farmers have to take extra steps — especially now during the harvest season — to be sure that seed bearing these traits doesn’t find its way into their commodity grain loads,” he said in the statement.
The first step is making sure that the farmer and everyone involved in the farm operation knows which fields contain the unapproved traits and how to handle them, Gaesser told DTN in an interview Tuesday. The National Corn Growers Association also has urged farmers to verify the traits grown in on-farm test plots so that grain can be sent to the appropriate marketing channels.
“They need to be really careful about cleaning their combines out when they switch from an unapproved trait of corn to their soybean crop,” Gaesser said. They also need to thoroughly clean out their grain legs, augers, grain carts, semis and any other equipment that’s used to harvest corn containing the Viptera and Duracade traits.
“It takes time to flush the system and to get all those kernels of corn out of the combine,” Gaesser said. “It’s not a simple process. We can’t cut corners here. We cannot afford to cut corners.”
It’s also vital that farmers communicate with their local co-ops, grain elevators, ethanol plants and any other buyers to make sure they know the business’s protocol on unapproved traits, he said. Some grain companies, like Cargill, will accept the Viptera trait if it’s declared, but have indicated they won’t take Duracade.
U.S. soybean farmers have worked for more than 30 years to develop their trade relationship with China, which now represents more trade than all other soybean-buying nations combined. During the current marketing year, China bought $14 billion of U.S. soybeans because China trusts that the U.S. will sell them “a safe, reliable, and certain product. Anything that might undermine that trust is not good for our market.”
It’s also important that farmers respect China’s rules, he told DTN. ASA, other ag industry groups and USDA are all working with China in hopes of developing a new regulatory approval process that’s transparent, timely and based on science.
“We remain frustrated with the pace and murkiness of regulatory approvals in some of our export markets, but we also recognize that the rules are the rules in those markets, and we have to respect them. That means that we simply can’t send grain with traits that aren’t yet approved,” said Wade Cowan, a producer from Brownfield, Texas, and ASA’s first vice president in a press release. “Every necessary precaution needs to be taken by originating trait providers and seed companies, and then on our farms, at the elevators, at terminals and at ports, to prevent seed with unapproved traits from entering the supply chain.
“The longer term answer, of course, is a more efficient and transparent system of foreign approvals, and a global policy to allow for the low level presence of biotech traits that are fully approved in a producing market but not yet approved in an export market.”