Farmers using biotech seed may pay less insurance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a move that benefits biotech crop companies and their farmer customers, the U.S. Agriculture Department has approved the expansion of a risk management program that effectively lowers crop insurance costs for producers planting certain biotech corn seeds.

The program was expanded from the original 2008 pilot to include more states for Monsanto Co products and other corn hybrids from DuPont Co’s Pioneer Hi-Bred business division, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co.

Farmers who plant certain corn hybrids will qualify for crop insurance premium reductions in some states. Monsanto estimated premiums for certain policies were reduced on average by more than $3 per acre during the 2008 pilot program. Similar savings are expected in 2009.

“This program recognizes the reduced annual production risk that comes from using advanced seeds and technologies that have the possibility to increase yields and places that value back in the hands of growers,” Tim Hennessy of Monsanto said in a statement.

USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board of Directors said the program applies to approved corn seed hybrids containing specific biotech traits that enhance protection against above-ground pests such as moths and their larvae and below-ground corn rootworm damage. The biotech crops also tolerate herbicide treatments.

The lower crop insurance premiums will begin for the 2009 crop year. In order to be eligible, farmers must plant at least 75 percent of their corn using the following technologies:

* Monsanto YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2, YieldGard VT Triple, and YieldGard VT Triple PRO hybrids for non-irrigated corn for grain. The program expands from the original four states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota to also include Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Nebraska.

In addition, irrigated corn for grain acreage planted to the qualifying Monsanto hybrids would be eligible for coverage in Kansas and Nebraska.

* Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences Herculex Xtra and Herculex Xtra RR2 hybrids for non-irrigated corn for grain in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

* Syngenta Agrisure CB and RW stacked and Agrisure 3000GT hybrids for non-irrigated corn for grain in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Reporting by Christopher Doering and Carey Gillam