Endangered corn borers?

Bt corn's effictiveness could one day make it obsolete.

Rumors about the extinction of corn borers may be premature, but there's at least some reason to dream. Just look at the plight of the boll weevil.

At the annual Beltwide Cotton Conference in Atlanta, GA, this past January, growers heard that the boll weevil has been virtually eliminated as a cotton pest. Already, 33% of cotton-growing states have eradicated the bug, and 65% are “nearing eradication.”

It has taken years of integrated pest management, a virtual war on the boll weevil, to get to this point. And the weevil war has been largely conventional in nature, won for the most part without the benefits of genetically modified Bt cotton, which controls bollworm and other pests, but not the boll weevil.

Borers beware

Meanwhile in the Corn Belt, with nearly half of the corn acres in some areas being planted to Bt corn, it's already beginning to look like corn borer populations have been nuked. In fact, University of Minnesota extension economist Terry Hurley says the value of Bt corn may be diminishing. His reasoning? If 50% of corn is Bt every year, that means 50% fewer borers in the next generation. Bt corn doesn't repel borers; it kills them. And if you do that for a few years, borer populations become very small in a hurry, perhaps too small to make paying the Bt tech fee worth the money in some cases.

Now, before you cancel your order for Bt corn seed, bear in mind that long-term research by Hurley and coworkers Paul Mitchell at Texas A&M and Marlin Rice at Iowa State University shows an average value of about $16/acre for planting Bt corn in Minnesota. That's based on historical population trends through 1998. Assuming a technology fee of $10/acre, that leaves an extra $6/acre of profits. But in a changing world, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Still a threat?

“Corn borer populations in Minnesota and Iowa have been very low since 1998,” Hurley says. The 1997 growing season was the last year when borer populations were close to average (about one borer per plant in Minnesota). “But if there are no corn borers around, there are no benefits to growing Bt corn,” he says.

That doesn't necessarily mean you should abandon Bt technology. Early-planted fields, fields sheltered from the wind and those that have experienced heavy pressure in recent years still should be considered corn borer hot zones. And borers could be set to make another run. Researchers at Pioneer Hi-Bred International point out that populations may simply be at the turning point of a natural downward cycle that recurs every few years. Infestation levels actually increased from 2000 to 2001, they say.

EPA reregisters Counter

BASF's Counter insecticide-nematicide will continue to be available to growers in the future because the company signed an agreement with EPA for the product's reregistration. Under the terms of the agreement, BASF will gradually reduce the production of Counter to a maintenance level. EPA is reviewing registrations of all organophosphates, including terbufos, the active ingredient in Counter. The cutback of Counter production meets EPA's goal of reducing the total amount of the product in the marketplace, while also meeting BASF's goal of ensuring adequate supplies of Counter to growers. Counter controls corn rootworms and is the only corn soil insecticide labeled for control of nematodes, according to BASF.

Soil probe measures moisture

Get a better fix on soil moisture conditions with the new Field Scout TDR 300 soil moisture probe from Spectrum Technologies. The Field Scout is portable and features an LCD display of soil moisture in two modes: volumetric water content that indicates the percent of water in the soil, and relative water content to indicate moisture deficit. Price: $1,095. Contact Spectrum Technologies Inc., Dept. FIN, 23839 W. Andrew Rd., Plainfield, IL 60544, 800/248-8873, www.specmeters.com or circle 188.

Healthy plastic

Soy-based plastic may be the next use for soybeans. Researchers at Iowa State University report some interesting properties of soy plastic. One is its ability to absorb sound and vibration, making it ideal for washing machines. The researchers say efforts to make plastic from soybean oil are economically feasible because soil oil costs $0.17/lb. whereas styrene, a chemical commonly used in plastics, costs $0.40/lb.

Monsanto seed sites ISO certified

All of Monsanto's U.S. seed production sites and quality assurance labs are ISO 9002 certified. To receive the ISO (International Organization of Standardization) designation, Monsanto seed sites were required to submit detailed documentation developed over many months and then they were inspected by an independent team.

Chemical labels online

Find all the information you need to know about chemical labels at one place on the Web. Crop Data Management Systems (CDMS) now offers a Web version of the searchable crop-protectant database called the Ag Product Label Service (APLS). Within APLS, you can find label summaries, full text labels, MSDSs, and DOT and Worker Protection Standards information from more than 80 chemical manufacturers. You can search by product name, type and manufacturer, crop, pest (up to four), and state. A one-year license to the Web APLS costs $595.

For a free 24-hour demo password, visit www.cdms.net or contact Kimberly Terrell, CDMS Inc., Dept. FIN, 423 4th St., 7th Floor, Marysville, CA 95901, 800/237-2367 or circle 187.

Hitch sprayer

This hitch sprayer with a 50-gal. polyethylene tank mounts on the back of any pickup truck or SUV equipped with a receiver hitch. It can be used for spot-spraying fields and pastures, spraying cattle or transporting water. The sprayer comes fitted with either a PumpTec piston pump or a Flojet Quad pump. You can also equip the receiver hitch platform with a diesel spot sprayer for use in the “brush busters” program.

Powered by a deep-cycle, 12v battery with a 110v charger, the PumpTec pump operates at a maximum of 4 gpm and up to 200 psi for long-range spot spraying.

The Flojet Quad pump operates off the vehicle's electrical system to move liquids at 5 gpm and up to 50 psi. This pump works well with an optional boomless nozzle or 20-ft. boom that mounts on the rear of the receiver hitch platform.

The standard $1,044 package includes tank, pump, hose and spray gun. A hand-crank hose reel, hose and trigger gun are optional. Contact Wylie Spray Centers, North Main St., Box 100, Petersburg TX 79250, 800/722-4001 or circle 186.