Too often these days, cotton producers are being pushed into purchases of technology and seed treatments that may be either overvalued or not needed, which is a big factor in rising production costs for cotton, says LSU AgCenter research entomologist Roger Leonard.

“The cotton industry is in the midst of troubled times,” said Leonard, speaking at Cotton Incorporated’s Crop Management Seminar in Memphis. “Crop input costs are as high as they’ve ever been, especially at-planting costs. Crop value until the last 60 days, has been about as low as it’s been for a while.

“We’re seeing a number of pest problems evolve, including resistance, not only in insects, but also in weeds. We have a limited number of tools. We are currently losing even more of those tools, most recently the loss of Temik (aldicarb).”

But the biggest loss in Leonard’s mind could be a loss of decision-making power for producers, especially when it comes to selecting and paying for various technologies and seed treatments.

Much of this has come about due to unparalleled producer adoption of technologies that incorporate herbicide tolerance and insect resistant traits into cotton varieties, Leonard noted.

“We’re also moving from simple protein products to much more advanced products with multiple herbicide and insect resistant tolerance. It’s going to become very complicated. In many situations, these extra technologies may not have a lot of value on your individual farm.”

The development of weed and pest resistance to these technologies is a big factor for some erosion of value, according to Leonard. “The value of a herbicide-resistant crop is not the same even though you’re still capable of using a herbicide over the top. But you cannot separate technology, variety and seed treatments any longer. They are all out there as a package.”

Seed treatments have provided convenience for cotton producers, and their utility may increase with the loss of aldicarb, noted Leonard. Seed treatments are also the largest growth market in the ag chemical market. But how many treatments do producers really need on their seed?

Leonard showed the end of a cotton seed sack from 2009 which had no less than 10 seed treatment products listed.

“This used to be a minor consequence when a seed treatment cost a dollar or two an acre. But many of these treatments are value-added. I’m just not sure they’re value added for the farmer. I think they’re value-added for the company. In the future, some of these products may be combined under a single, new brand name. So beware of what you are buying and what you are paying for.”

Leonard says the final decision “on whatever treatment goes on the seed should be based on knowledge of people who are walking those fields, and ag consultants. Unfortunately, in cotton, I doubt that you will have an opportunity to buy any non-treated cotton seed in 2011.

“If you’re not the decision-maker, are you really getting what you want, what you’re asking for and what you’re paying for? This is important for seed traits, seed treatments and foliar sprays.”

Leonard urged producers to evaluate generic products prior to using them. “Not all of them are created equal. I’ve walked a number of complaints from people using products such as generic equivalents to a pyrethroid like Karate. There’s nothing wrong with these generic products. But if a product is 50 percent cheaper, there might be a reason. It may have only 50 percent of the active ingredient. If it is, you’re only going to get a 50 percent level of control, and you get to spray that field again. So be very careful in that substitution process.”

Leonard said producers need to put their trust in people with knowledge, like their crop consultants. “The consultants probably have the best knowledge to make a recommendation, but there are a number of folks that the recommendation passes through before it makes it to the field. There are more changes made to a consultant’s recommendations over a cup of coffee than anywhere else.”

Many of the basic companies, dealers, applicators all have some input and are centers of influence in this process. But producers should still be able make the final decision, Leonard says.

“Don’t buy a product if it doesn’t fit your system. Don’t buy a seed/trait package unless it has value on your farm. These packages have an extremely high cost up front.”