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Transgenics change farmer's thinking

The advent of transgenic crops has given Louisiana farmer Dan Logan the ability to control both weed and insect infestations while also eliminating the need to make costly trips across his fields with a tractor.

Logan, who operates Logan Farms in Gilliam, La., says that in the past five years he has gone from attacking hard-to-control weeds with repeated, costly pesticide applications and the unforgiving steel of a disk blade to a complete no-till production system.

The complete 180-degree about-face turn in his crop production philosophy, he says, is due, at least partly, to the introduction of Roundup Ready and Bt cotton varieties. The commercial release of the transgenic crop varieties, in addition to the introduction of the boll weevil eradication program to his region, has also allowed him to greatly reduce his insect control costs.

“We had some insects that we just couldn't control. As a result, we were using more of the insecticides that we had available, and we were using them more frequently. But, they just weren't working and they were costing us a lot of money,” Logan says. “Similarly, we had a number of weeds, like pigweed, bermudagrass and wild okra, that we just couldn't control with the herbicides we had available and we were spending a lot of money.”

To get a better handle on the hard-to-control weeds inhabiting his cotton fields, Logan spent a lot of time, effort and money, cultivating. “We knew we were harming the roots of the cotton plants, but we had to do it because it was the only way we could control these weeds,” he says.

Logan's pest control strategies began changing substantially with the introduction of Bt cotton, and then again with the release of stacked Roundup Ready and Bt varieties. “For the first time since I began farming, I was able to plant a crop and not put out a pre-emergence herbicide treatment. That was really a big deal to me. It allowed us to do so many things differently and I believe it allowed the cotton to grow off better.”

Being an early adopter of transgenic varieties wasn't without its challenges. Logan struggled at first as he learned how to use the new technology. “All of these things occurred in a short time period and we had to learn how to use this new technology and make it fit in our farming scheme very quickly.”

Logan, however, is quick to point out that the benefits of planting transgenic varieties far outweigh any disadvantages.

“This technology reduces or eliminates our need for fall tillage. We can plant earlier and we can plant into better field conditions. We are not cutting the plants' roots by cultivating and we're reducing the amount of runoff from the soil. We can also grow more cotton with fewer employees, less erosion and less compaction,” he says.

An added benefit of a conservation tillage system is the cost savings he has realized, which Logan is re-directing toward production improvements that will more directly improve his bottom line.” Before, we were spending all of this money on weed and insect control and we just didn't have any money left for irrigation. Now, all of a sudden, with the advent of GMOs, we are able to concentrate on something that could really increase our production potential and make us more efficient.”

So, what's the next step for Logan?

While yield monitors and site-specific application technologies have piqued his interest, he's not quite ready to jump into that technology market quite yet. What he is paying close attention to are the anticipated introductions of an improved Bt cotton variety, a Liberty Link cotton variety, and a new Roundup Ready gene that will allow growers to make over-the-top glyphosate applications later in the season to larger cotton plants.

“There's a lot of new technology out there for farmers to choose from, but we have to make careful choices. We can't do all of the things that are out there,” he says. “We're certainly using transgenic products on all of our acres and I really think that, in the end, sound science will prevail.”

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