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Making a Refuge for Crops

For 20 years, growers have used Bt crops to minimize damage from pests. Bt crops, including corn, are genetically engineered to produce proteins from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium. These proteins are harmless to vertebrates, but toxic to a specific class of invertebrate crop pests.

To date, these Bt crops have been remarkably successful. However, insects have shown the ability to resist Bt proteins. To help slow the development of Bt-resistant pests, farmers who plant Bt crops are urged to plant a certain percentage of their fields with non-Bt crops – called refuge crops. In the case of Bt corn, farmers are required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to plant a section of their fields with refuge crops.

A study at North Carolina State University (NCSU) revealed a significant shortfall in the amount of refuge cropland being planted in North Carolina, likely increasing the rate at which pests evolve the ability to eat Bt crops. The study also surveyed several hundred corn growers in eastern North Carolina. They identified factors, such as financial incentives, that may increase farmers’ willingness to plant refuge crops in the future. NIFA funded the research through the Southern Regional Integrated Pest Management Center.

Read the NCSU article.

Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products;
Agriculture systems and technology;
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment;
Agriculture economics and rural communities
U.S. States and Territories
North Carolina
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