|From The Field|
|Plan for Cotton After Bollgard™|
By Brad Meyer
Cotton prices are rising, but very few growers in Alabama are changing their minds about planting soybeans and corn. Grain prices are simply too high to ignore.
Though cotton acres will be down this year, farmers need to consider the changes occurring in the industry over the next three years to be prepared when cotton returns to the state. As it stands today, the Bollgard™ license will expire at the end of 2009. Monsanto has worked with EPA to allow planting of existing inventory of Bollgard™ varieties in 2010, but the final date to purchase a variety containing Bollgard™ will be September 30, 2009. This will require decisions on cotton technologies and germplasm. The good news is we are familiar with the technologies, seed companies are working furiously to bring new varieties to market and we have two years to evaluate them before the change occurs.
Monsanto introduced Bollgard™ in the fall of 1995 following a catastrophic year for cotton in Alabama. Tremendous tobacco budworm pressure combined with pyrethroid insecticide resistance resulted in unprecedented insect control costs and low yields during the 1995 season. Growers responded in 1996 by planting 77 percent of cotton acres in a largely unproven variety with Bollgard™ technology. The technology and the germplasm it was placed in has been very important to the Alabama cotton industry over the past twelve years, with a low of 40 percent planted in 2002 to a high of 86 percent in 2007.
Initially, the need for worm control drove demand. Following several years of light lepidopteran insect pressure, the demand for Bollgard™ fell until the introduction of several high yielding Bollgard/Roundup Ready™ varieties in 2002 and 2003. Over the past four years, performance of this germplasm has been the driving factor for demand.
Why is the license expiring? The EPA has played an active role in managing resistance to Bollgard™ from its introduction. Bollgard™ cotton contains a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces an insecticidal protein which is toxic to various caterpillar pests. This protein has a single mode of action. When the original license was approved in 1995, EPA expected resistance to develop in tobacco budworm within ten years. Farmers were required to plant part of their cotton crop each year in refuge acres. Approval of the license was contingent on the development of a system with two genes and two modes of action to replace Bollgard™. To date, the refuge requirements mandated by EPA have worked and resistance in tobacco budworm has not developed. This has resulted in a series of extensions of the license, the latest of which expires in 2009, 14 years after the original approval.
Germplasm and Technology Choices
Following expiration of the license in 2009, cotton growers will have several technology choices. As a result of the overlap in old and new technologies, we have the advantage of field experience with these choices. They have been validated in on-farm use over the past several years. Monsanto will offer Bollgard II™ and Roundup Ready Flex™. Bollgard II™ contains the Bollgard™ gene plus an additional Bt gene with a different mode of action. Roundup Ready Flex™ allows season-long, over-the-top applications of glyphosate herbicide. Dow AgroSciences will offer Widestrike™, another two Bt gene system. Both Bollgard II™ and Widestrike™ have improved efficacy against several worm pests, including cotton bollworm and fall armyworm and do not require the planting of refuge acres. Bayer CropScience will offer Liberty Link™, which allows over-the-top applications of Ignite™ herbicide.
Growers will face a different situation in 2010 than in 1996. In 1996, cotton farmers adopted a new technology and a new variety. The focus was on the technology. Today, growers are familiar with available technologies and the focus is on germplasm. Seed companies recognize this and are pouring resources into the production of new varieties with new technology that outperform established BG/RR varieties. The resources are considerable: with the acquisition of Stoneville by Bayer CropScience, FiberMax and Stoneville now have nine breeding programs in the U.S.; Delta & Pine Land, which was acquired by Monsanto last summer, has eight breeding programs in the U.S.; and Phytogen Seed Company, which is owned by Dow AgroSciences, has two breeding programs. Monsanto also owns Cotton States, which draws from public and private breeding programs and licenses varieties out to companies such as Croplan Genetics.
In general, the cotton varieties which have entered the market since Roundup Ready Flex™ was approved for sale in 2006 have not yet performed with established BG/RR varieties. The reason for this can be found in the interaction between Monsanto and various seed companies as Monsanto began to field test Roundup Ready Flex™ technology. Early in the field testing process, Monsanto allowed seed companies to submit germplasm for placement of the new technologies. This germplasm eventually became the first Bollgard/Roundup Ready Flex™ varieties that came to market. After several years of testing and selection of the final event offered for sale, Monsanto turned over the event to seed companies for variety development. Seed companies have been working furiously since that point. The bottom line for cotton growers in Alabama is we are on the verge of seeing great new cotton varieties to go with the new technologies.
REFERENCES: Cotton Insect Losses, Beltwide Cotton Conference Proceedings, 1995-2007.