EPA has approved an amendment to the registration of Bollgard cotton that will allow producers in the eastern Cotton Belt to plant Deltapine 555 and other varieties containing the original Bollgard gene in 2010.
The agency also extended the registration for Bollgard until July 1, 2010, as part of its plan for discontinuing the use of the single-gene technology. Growers must purchase seed of those Bollgard varieties by Sept. 30 to be able to plant them in 2010, according to EPA.
“The extension is good news for farmers because they will have a registered product to plant in 2010,” said Dave Rhylander, Delta Pine brand lead for Monsanto. “This means we will not have to turn in the names of the growers to EPA, which is one of the things the agency had initially said we would have to do.”
Rhylander said farmers will be able to purchase about 33 percent of the amount of Bollgard seed that was available to them in 2009. That's up from the 24 percent in Monsanto's earlier discussions with EPA.
Producers in the Southeast have been concerned about the loss of Deltapine 555, a mid-maturity variety that was well-adapted to growing conditions in the lower Southeast. Deltapine 555 accounted for 58 percent of the cotton acres planted in the Southeast in 2009, according to USDA's Cotton Varieties Planted Report.
Monsanto Deltapine officials said two varieties from its Class of 2009 introductions have shown promise for replacing 555 and that some members of its Class of 2010 have produced higher yields than 555.
“In our broad exposure plots, which are module-sized blocks on grower fields, we've seen significant increases in yield,” said Dave Albers, cotton germplasm manager for Monsanto. “These are yield increases that haven't been seen since 555 was introduced. We're very excited about those varieties.”
Some growers have also reported yield increases with Deltapine 0935 and 0949, both of which are in its Class of 2009 and contain the Bollgard II technology.
EPA's registration of Bollgard II required that Monsanto/Delta Pine phase out the original Bollgard so that caterpillar insects would not continue to be exposed to the original Bacillus thuringiensis gene and, possibly, become resistant to it. The original Cry 1AC gene is one of the two Bt genes contained in Bollgard II.
“This transition is necessary to maintain the long-term effectiveness of biotech traits in cotton that control key insect pests by moving away from a single mode of action to a dual modes of action on Bt cotton products,” Monsanto said.
Under the amendment, EPA has determined that Bollgard varieties may only be approved for planting in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida (north of Tampa), Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (excluding the ten prohibited panhandle counties of Dallam, Sherman, Hansford, Ochiltree, Lipscomb, Hartley, Moore, Hutchison, Roberts and Carson) and Virginia.
Bollgard seed will not be sold for planting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico in 2010 because pink bollworm eradication programs are under way, or EPA determined that there was very little to no Bollgard planted in these states in previous years.
“We have a number of people who will be working closely with farmers, retailers and others to provide local information on Deltapine variety performance and to help growers understand the varieties that may be best suited for their farms in these restricted areas,” said Rhylander. He acknowledged that Monsanto's announced restructuring will present a challenge to the company as it implements the EPA-request plan for discontinuing Bollgard.
“A lot of the work had already been done prior to the restructuring,” he said. “But it will be a challenge to get the products exposed now that some of the local sales reps are no longer there. Growers could switch to a competing company's products or quit planting cotton, and we don't want that to happen.”