I attended a recent meeting where Monsanto was attempting to explain its justification for a petition to remove the requirement of a structured cotton refuge for Bollgard II.

Their reason for this change is that the refuge is an inconvenience for producers. This is a reasonable point that I and most cotton growers agree with, but the real inconvenience is dealing with resistant insects.

Another benefit suggests that a producer would economically benefit more from a Bollgard II variety than a non-Bt variety planted in the structured refuge. I cannot agree. Many Bollgard II varieties currently available have some improvements to be made before they consistently out-yield elite non-Bollgard lines that are treated with insecticides. The most consistent and highest yielding varieties in most state variety trials are the Bollgard I lines, which Monsanto wishes to phase out in three years.

To justify elimination of a structured cotton refuge for Bollgard II, Monsanto has developed a comprehensive mathematical model based upon a number of assumptions.

Their data clearly shows difference in the behavior of Heliothine pests across cotton production regions. Data from one region may not be sufficient to predict what is occurring in other cotton production areas, especially given the differences the data shows. I have not seen the entire set of in-depth data, but there is a saying that what happens in North Carolina, stays in North Carolina.

Much of the data is based upon a test which can separate the hosts upon which moths developed as larvae. The conclusions of this test suggest that a high proportion of the moths come from non-cotton sources. But during July, August, and even for a late crop in September, there are few non-cotton hosts available to produce these insects. Their data shows this, but the model considers even a low level of moth production sufficient for IRM.

Furthermore, it is assumed that wild host plants and non-cotton crops producing these insects will continue to be the same for the next 20 years. There is no way to accurately predict such an occurrence.

Finally, areas like south Texas, Louisiana, south Arkansas, Tennessee, parts of Mississippi and Alabama do not appear to be represented very well in the sampling.

The states and areas that need the Bt technologies the most include Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and parts of Texas. Any decision should be influenced strongly by the needs in these states.

I do not know how much data is enough, but I want to be confident that we have enough not to make a mistake. Once Bt resistance is here, there is no turning back the clock.

Louisiana farmers are concerned because we have suffered the implications of resistance on several occasions and need assurances that this would be the correct decision.

Cotton producers in other states need to take a closer look at this proposal and visit with their state cotton organizations, because they need to be sure that they are not being led into a blind hole that they can't find their way out of.

Remember that cotton farmers were told we would not have weeds develop resistance to glyphosate. This event happened sooner than later.

It happened because of the continued use of glyphosate.

Fortunately, many growers in Louisiana and other Mid-South states have always been taught to co-apply another herbicide like 2,4-D with glyphosate in preplant burndown applications.

I was not always sure why I needed to do this, but I will give credit to a group of excellent consultants and university personnel in Louisiana.

We have been told that the data in laboratory studies shows that we can overcome Bt resistance with another Bt. By the time we verify that claim in the field, it may be too late.

This is not only Monsanto's technology, but ours as well.

Cotton producers need to continue to demonstrate good stewardship of this technology and require Monsanto and the rest of the technology companies to do the same. Farmers cannot go back to spraying our cotton an additional six to 10 times a year for worms and still stay in the cotton business.
Travis Walker
Cotton producer
Winnsboro, La.