Mention the name Monsanto and most farmers think about the introduction of new technologies incorporating the Bacillus thuringiensis and Roundup Ready genes in cotton, corn, soybeans and now wheat.
So it must have come as somewhat of a surprise to growers attending the company's 2008 Technology Showcase event in Scott, Miss., that its Delta and Pine Land Business Unit is evaluating a new cotton variety that contains a “technology” that is 60 years old.
The technology is the nectariless trait, a characteristic some cotton breeders have long advocated as a way to counter the growing problem of plant bugs or lygus in Southeast cotton fields. (Among those: Bill Meredith, supervisory research geneticist at the USDA-ARS Crop Genetics and Production Research Unit.)
“The nectariless trait is a non-transgenic piece of quote-unquote technology that was really discovered back in the 1940s,” says Jay Mahaffey, a technical service entomologist for Delta and Pine Land who spoke at the Technology Showcase.
Mahaffey said Delta and Pine Land is developing an elite cotton variety that is nectariless or does not contain nectaries, glands that secrete nectar near the bottom of the leaves. The variety, DP 0935 B2RF, could be one of several new Bollgard II with Roundup Ready Flex varieties the company is planning to offer next season.
The last time entomologists evaluated the nectariless trait — in Louisiana about 10 years ago — those varieties reduced the number of both lygus nymphs and adults in those plots, said Mahaffey.
“We're going back and repeating this study across a broader set of environments,” he said. “The end result is we believe this particular trait can interact positively with some of our transgenic candidates that we're working with.”
Mahaffey told farmers Monsanto is continuing to look for transgenic traits that will control plant bugs in cotton. “That's something of the Holy Grail for us,” he noted, referring to Monsanto's efforts to insert a Bt gene that will control lygus.
“We are fairly far along in that search,” he said. “But we believe that 0935 in combination with the nectariless trait, Bollgard II and Roundup Ready Flex can offer growers tools they can use in their production systems.”
DP 0935 B2RF is one of more than a dozen new varieties that Delta and Pine Land and Monsanto are considering for release in 2009. They feature a new numbering system that begins with the year of release (thus 09 for varieties scheduled for release in 2009). The third and fourth numbers in the series denotes the relative maturity of the variety.
“We have so many new varieties in development that the three-number identification system we had been using didn't work,” said Chism Craig, a Monsanto/Delta and Pine Land agronomist who manages the Scott Learning Center. “Our cotton breeders are currently evaluating some 400 lines for potential release in 2011.”
Besides changing the numbering system, Delta and Pine Land is also adopting a new color scheme. White and green have replaced the traditional yellow and green on Deltapine cotton variety signs.
Craig told farmers attending the Showcase that he was excited to be talking about cotton.
“People have more or less abandoned cotton in some areas. Cotton has been a part of my life for a long time, and I'm pleased that our company is continuing to invest in improving cotton yields and fiber quality.”
At the same time, he said, Monsanto is also continuing to invest in new corn and soybean varieties because of the increased interest in those crops in the Mid-South and Southeast.
“My job today is to try to build some excitement around cotton, and the way I'm trying to do that is not only to talk about what's available today but also what will be available in 2009 and 2010,” he said.
Depending on the geography, he said, Monsanto/Delta and Pine Land is testing 12 to 15 new Bollgard II, Roundup Ready Flex varieties for potential release in its “class of 2009. What's even more exciting is that every one of these varieties is being increased for seed for sale in 2009.”
Technology Showcase speakers advised growers who have been planting Deltapine 555 BR and other varieties containing the original Bollgard gene to become familiar with the new Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex varieties such as DP 0935 B2RF and DP 0924 B2RF.
Under its agreement with EPA, Monsanto intends, by 2011, to completely transition away from Bollgard to the Bollgard II technology. The reason: To continue to prevent tobacco budworms and bollworms from developing resistance to the primary Bollgard gene.
“The registration for Bollgard expires in September 2009,” said Walt Mullins, cotton trait technical manager for Monsanto. “Monsanto's decision, and EPA agreed, was that at that point we would begin to transition away from Bollgard to Bollgard II.
“Farmers will be able to grow as much Bollgard as you want to grow in 2009. In 2010, you will be able to purchase whatever Bollgard inventory was left in 2009. In the meantime, you need to become familiar with the Bollgard II technology and get comfortable with the new varieties that are being developed with that technology because in 2011 you will no longer be able to grow Bollgard varieties.”