Several new products will soon mean an easier growing season for cotton farmers. A long time in the making, Bollgard II and Roundup Ready Flex are being talked up by Monsanto personnel.

Although there are some periphery benefits, Monsanto's selling point for Bollgard II will be better bollworm activity — especially in reproductive tissue.

“We know where Bollgard is weak,” says Zach Shappley, Monsanto technical development manager. “And this product will give better control in that area.”

The new product will also pick up other pests, including armyworms and loopers. Shappley, who spoke at the recent Monsanto field day in Coy, Ark., refers to this as an “expanded spectrum.”

Currently, Bollgard II tests are being conducted throughout Arkansas. In those tests, the same varietal family — in non-Bollgard, Bollgard and Bollgard II — are planted side-by-side. Some very useful data — particularly with the number of bollworms and fall armyworms showing up — will come out of those tests, says Shappley.

“The applications being made over-the-top to control bollworms, we expect to reduce with the new product. It's hard to say exactly what (Bollgard II) will do until we get it onto large acreage. But all indications are that it will do very well.”

Bollgard II also gives long-term benefits in resistance management.

“Bollgard II utilizes two genes with two modes of action: two proteins work on different parts of the insect. That allows the expression of the (resistance management) component, which was the original intent of Bollgard II. The expanded spectrum and increased efficacy was gravy, but we'll take it,” says Shappley.

Roundup Ready Flex

Shappley says Roundup Ready Flex will expand the window for over-the-top applications. “We've been working on this a long time. When you go over-the-top past fifth-leaf stage, some issues can develop with the reproductive process in cotton plants. Producers can see bolls fall off. Things are in place now where there's a better expression of the protein that confers resistance to Roundup in areas of the plant where resistance is needed. That opened the spraying window.”

The first question Shappley fields is: how late can sprayings be made when using the product?

“Well, there are a couple of concerns. First, in order to get a registration for Roundup Ready cotton, we must have the crop safety portion of the equation taken care of. We must make sure that when you're over-the-top, no bolls will be lost to Roundup. Second, we must pay close attention to the EPA requirement regarding the tolerance level for the amount of glyphosate that can be in seed.”

Through much study with Roundup Ready Flex — and keeping the two requirements in mind — Shappley says that in early testing Monsanto has found spraying over-the-top can continue to the 8- to 10-node range. Along with that, “we anticipate the use of a higher rate — perhaps a 2X rate compared to what you're using now. So if you're using 22 ounces of Roundup Weathermax, it may be up to 44 ounces.

“Those are just possibilities and goals, but that's what we're looking at. Hopefully, at some point, you'll be able to go all the way to lay-by with over-the-top applications of Roundup.”

Shappley is often asked when this technology will be available? “Well, earlier this year we narrowed our selections on what lines to go forward with. By doing that, we were able to hand off some plants to our seed company partners. But the integration process (which is basically putting transgenic traits into commercial varieties) has been going on since 2000. In 2000, we contacted all our seed company partners and asked them to send us the varieties they wanted to have this trait in.”

As a result, Monsanto has had as many as three greenhouses and 50 germplasm lines in development.

“That work makes us hope that by 2006 we'll have some Bollgard II/Roundup Ready Flex varieties available commercially. There are a lot of variables, but we're shooting for 2006.”