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Growers can plant Bollgard another year

EPA extends registration through 2001 cotton growing season THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protec-tion Agency has extended the registration for Bollgard and Boll-gard/Roundup Ready "stacked gene" cotton for the 2001 season.

The conditional registration for Monsanto's Bollgard cotton and Yield-gard or Bt corn were scheduled to expire in January 2001.

The new guidelines include these changes:

1 The "unsprayed" refuge option has been increased from four acres to five acres. Growers will be required to plant five acres of non-Bt for every 95 acres of Bollgard cotton. The refuge of non-Bt cotton cannot be sprayed with insecticides for tobacco budworm, bollworm or pink bollworm. It must be 150 feet wide and within one-half linear mile from the edge of the Bollgard cotton.

2 The "sprayed" option remains at 25 acres to ensure that at least 25 acres of non-Bt cotton are planted for every 100 acres of Bollgard cotton. All cotton can be treated with insecticides, and the refuge must be within one linear mile from the edge of the field planted with Bollgard cotton.

3 A new "embedded" option allows the planting of the refuge cotton within a field planted with Bollgard cotton. It requires the planting of five acres of non-Bt cotton for every 95 acres of Bollgard cotton. EPA will require certain configurations for this option. The refuge should be planted as a contiguous block. For very large fields, multiple blocks may be used.

For small or irregularly shaped fields, neighboring fields farmed by the same grower can be grouped into blocks to represent a larger field unit.

Within this larger field unit, one of the smaller fields may be used as the embedded refuge. This refuge may be treated with any insecticide at the same time associated Bollgard cotton is treated, but may not be treated for bollworm, budworm or pink bollworm independently of the Bollgard cotton.

For areas affected by pink bollworm only, the refuge may be planted as single rows within fields planted with Bollgard cotton

4 Producers will also be allowed to use community refuges. Guidelines for this option are being developed.

The National Cotton Council, which has been working with EPA to obtain long-term registration for the Bollgard gene, said it was pleased that EPA announced its decision to extend the registration in a timely manner.

"We were concerned that the decision might be delayed until it was too late for producers to make decisions about which varieties they would plant in 2001," said a council official. "Growers will have one less element of uncertainty to deal with this winter."

In announcing the new guidelines, EPA decided on a compromise between a request for higher refuge requirements by some cotton entomologists and calls by grower organizations other cotton entomologists for keeping the current refuge options.

Producer organizations say that increasing the refuge requirements would lead to more insecticide spraying and increased production costs at a time when cotton prices are at their lowest levels in years and farmers are experiencing disastrous financial conditions.

In its position paper, the National Cotton Council presented recommendations aimed at improving the effectiveness of the smaller "unsprayed" option, improving placement of "sprayed" refuges and seeking new options to provide flexibility.

It called for maintaining the 80/20 sprayed option with a requirement that the refuge be located within one mile of Bollgard cotton, and it urged that the 96/4 unsprayed option be retained again with a requirement that the refuge be located within a mile of the Bt cotton.

The NCC also recommended including the new "embedded" option that provided for spraying the non-Bt production as long as the entire Bt field is treated.

The position paper endorsed modifications in the pink bollworm refuge plan developed by the Arizona Bt cotton working group and the NCC's Pink Bollworm Action Committee. Among the changes was one allowing growers using six, eight or 10-row planters to place non-Bt seed in one hopper box.

At the same time, the NCC was presenting its paper, environmentalist organizations were urging EPA to adopt a 50 percent non-Bt refuge requirement or, in the case of groups like Greenpeace, calling for it to ban the use of Bt crops.

The agency instead decided to strike a compromise between the positions advocated by the first entomologist group and the grower organizations and other entomologists, increasing the refuge size requirements slightly, adding the 95/5 "embedded" option, community refuge areas and new refuge location requirements.

"We believe these changes must be accompanied by an extensive grower education program," said Craig Brown, director of producer affairs for the NCC. "The perception of compliance is very important. Unfortunately, EPA doesn't quite trust the industry on the subject of compliance."

Speaking at a meeting of the American Cotton Producers in Raleigh, N.C., Brown said the ACP and the Cotton Council will be working to develop new educational materials on refuge requirements over the next few months.

"We can't afford for producers not to comply," he said. "At the same time growers are adjusting to the new guidelines, Monsanto will be negotiating with EPA for a new registration for Bollgard. What comes after this could be much more restrictive if the agency decides farmers are not complying with the new guidelines."

At the same meeting, EPA Assistant Deputy Administrator Steve Johnson laid out the timetable for the registration review process for Bt cotton and corn.

On Sept. 15, Johnson said, EPA intends to release its assessment of the Bollgard technology in cotton and the Yieldgard technology in corn for public comment. Copies of the studies will be available on the EPA website.

The Scientific Advisory Panel formed by EPA to review the technologies will meet on Oct. 15 to review the agency's assessment and provide recommendations for possible changes

"We will continue to work on the registration package during the winter months and expect to make a final decision on in the spring of next year," said Johnson.

"We believe input by producers, who want to employ and protect this economical and environmentally friendly technology, will continue to be crucial," said Hollis Isbell, a Tuscumbia, Ala., grower who chairs the American Cotton Producers.

"We are pleased to be part of the process. The modified requirements represent a balance between practical and profitable farming and preventive methods to ensure the long-term effectiveness of Bt cotton. We are confident producers understand the importance of continuing to comply with refuge requirements on a voluntary basis."

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