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Insect-resistant Maize Could Increase Yields and Decrease Pesticide Use in Mexico

The fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda. Each year Mexican farmers use more than 3,000 tons of insecticide active ingredient to combat this insect on maize alone. The adoption of insect-resistant maize could greatly reduce that amount. Photo by Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org.

Este comunicado está disponible en español.

Although maize was originally domesticated in Mexico, the country’s average yield per hectare is 38% below the world’s average. In fact, Mexico imports 30% of its maize from foreign sources to keep up with internal demand.

To combat insect pests, Mexican farmers rely primarily on chemical insecticides. Approximately 3,000 tons of active ingredient are used each year just to manage the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), in addition to even more chemicals used to control other pests such as the corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) and the black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon). Because of the severity of these pests and the reliance on chemical insecticides, Mexico uses the highest quantity of pesticides per hectare of arable land in North America.

While integrated pest management (IPM) programs — which aim to minimize economic damage and lower environmental and health risks — are widely used in crops such as tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers, IPM is highly uncommon in Mexican maize crops.

In order to understand why, an expert panel composed of Mexican researchers and crop advisers gathered information from 2010-2013 regarding the main pests that reduce maize production, and the main methods being used to control these pests. Their findings are published in a free, open-access article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management.

The authors found the diversity of growing conditions to be the greatest obstacle for implementing IPM programs for Mexico’s 2 million growers, many of whose fields are only two hectares or less.

Another obstacle, according to the authors, is the lack of insect-resistant maize varieties, such as Bt hybrids. These varieties, which are genetically modified to express proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, are grown on 90 percent of maize fields in the U.S., whose yields per hectare are nearly three times greater than Mexican yields.

“According to our estimates, 3,000 tons of organophosphate active ingredient is sold in Mexico each year to control ONLY fall armyworm, ONLY on corn,” said Professor Urbano Nava-Camberos of the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, and one of the co-authors. “In addition, applications are also made to cutworms, corn rootworms, borers, and corn earworms that do not necessarily coincide with the fall armyworm applications. However, all of these insect pests can be effectively controlled with Bt corn and integrated pest management programs.”

“There are a few solutions that can be immediately implemented to diminish the environmental impact of corn pests, including the use of Bt corn,” added another co-author, crop consultant Guadalupe Pellegaud. “Unfortunately, people who oppose the introduction of this technology in Mexico do not seem to realize that a far greater environmental impact is done by applying more than 3,000 tons of insecticide active ingredient each year.”

Click here for the full open-access article, “Maize Pests in Mexico and Challenges for the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management Programs.”

3 Comments »

  1. You are, of course, correct. However the political opposition most likely realizes the benefits of this and do not care. You are dealing with evil people.

  2. Reliance on pesticides created by the same companies that now want to sell them these seeds that is. Realistically, indigenous seed growers and producers (which aren’t particularly separate roles) are entirely capable of producing their own seeds and cultivating their own crops however, through seeds forced upon them by international agribusiness corporations under the guise of “increased yield,” are made to be dependent on the pesticides and fertilizers that, to no one’s surprise, these same corporations also produce and profit from. These self-same plants are the ones destroying biodiversity and soil fertility in Latin America, in Africa, in India, and countless other places, yet the solution, for some confounded reason, is to continue to force MORE of them on small farmers??? I’m not on the side of the folks who want to plunge indigenous farmers in Mexico back into the throes of 19th century latifundio and bring back the ages of large landholdings and forced labor, I’m on the side of the people who do not want the foundation of their livelihood ripped from their hands and appropriated by international corporations claiming to “own” a form of life. In multiple surveys conducted in Latin America (not specific to Mexico) most people felt that the idea of “owning” a seed was preposterous and that, once informed, the seed laws and “breeder’s rights” that allow for programs like IPM to take control of the means of production that are, or rather unfortunately, were unique to small farmers, are wrongly put in place. Rather than immediately deciding that it’s your place to take control of the development of technology for the country in question, maybe it might behoove you to stop for a moment and ponder what might the benefit of allow the country to control its own technological development be. Oh wait, sorry, I forgot that you can’t profit off of that.

  3. Ryan, Time to learn that without profit. the farmers go broke. You have nothing to eat nd the folks who made the device you typed that nonsense on can’t feed their kids. those folks who made your clothes, house and vehicle you use become hunter/gatherers. As do you. “forced?” Name one time that seed companies used actual force to require farmers to buy their seeds. “increased yield?” No guise there. It has been happening for decades. IPM doesn’t take control of means of production. You don’t even know what those letters mean. “ripped from their hands?” That is a flat out lie. Farmers buy seeds and inputs that giver them the best chance of making a profit. If someone tries to rip something from the farmers hands. His chance of survival is about the same as yours if farmers and “agribusiness corporations” Fil to make profits. Which BTW are a good thing. Please take economics and agronomy before commenting. Try Thomas Sowell for the economics.

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