WICHITA, KS (AP)--Call it a wildlife refuge for pests.
But instead of protecting some endangered animal, these havens are designed to protect the dreaded corn borer moth.
Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations imposed this spring, farmers can only use 80% of their corn acreage to plant the Bt variety of biotech corn, which contains a bacteria gene that makes it toxic to pests.
The remaining 20% must be a non-Bt variety--so that enough of the corn borers can survive and reproduce.
If the thought of a refuge for corn borers is not strange enough, consider this: the new regulations were actually suggested to the EPA by farmers themselves.
The thinking is that enough of the corn borers susceptible to the Bt corn must survive so they can mate with any resistant moths which emerge from the biotech cornfields, said Randy Higgins, state entomologist with Kansas State Research and Extension.
Without the plan, Bt-resistant moths would mate with each other-- something that ultimately would increase the resistance of the corn borer population.
``This strategy, coupled with other recommendations the EPA has made, are designed to maintain the durability of Bt corn as a remarkably effective pest control tool for many years,'' Higgins said.
That is especially important in south-central and southwest Kansas--where corn fields are plagued by heavy concentrations
of both European and southwestern corn borers.
One of the people who has measured the benefits of the technology in the field is Larry Buschman, research entomologist at the Kansas State Research and Extension Center in Garden City.
Farmers pay a technology premium of about $10 per acre to plant the Bt-modified seed--which is cheaper than any insecticide application, he said. The Bt fields not only produce bigger yields but also higher quality corn.
``The economic advantage of planting Bt corn is very substantial, when you see $150 for every $10 investment,'' Buschman said.
Jere White, executive director of Kansas Corn Growers Association, said the practice of planting refuge acres for corn borers when using Bt seed has been an industry practice for at least a couple of years.
``That was the practice that had been encouraged by growers and industry, prior to being a formally adopted regulation by EPA, so it really was no change to any growers,'' he said.
But one thing that farmers are more concerned about is whether they will be able to find markets for the Bt corn, which became controversial last year after a university study suggested its pollen could be killing Monarch butterflies.
last week that more research is needed to prevent biotech crops from killing harmless insects and to stop pest-resistant genes from spreading into weeds.