As corn rootworm insecticide marketers focus on the 2002 season, they also have their eyes on a possible future of rapidly declining sales brought about by the advent of rootworm-protected seed.

Whether they begin losing market share to rootworm-resistant hybrids in 2002 or later depends on when Monsanto receives government approval for the first rootworm-protected hybrids. (See “Stalking the supreme survivor,” October 2001, page 6.)

Regardless of that outcome, most companies' pricing and programs are in a holding pattern for 2002. One of their primary goals is to retain market share in the face of a challenging future, especially for granular products.

Two small, but growing segments are flying outside the holding pattern. Manufacturers of liquid and seed-applied rootworm insecticides continue to jostle to win market share from their granular competitors. They are positioning their products as flexible, convenient choices for rootworm control on conventional corn and refuge acres (assuming refuges are required for rootworm-protected hybrids), as well as for control of secondary insect pests on transgenic and conventional hybrids.

Depending on whose numbers you use, liquid insecticides now claim 15 to 25% of the at-plant corn insecticide market, up from single digits in 1999. Seed treatments have a lower market share but are expected to grow in importance for both secondary insect and rootworm control as transgenic rootworm hybrids become available.

Long-term decline

The corn rootworm insecticide market has been declining in recent years even without resistant hybrids. In 2001 it shrank 3% in acreage and 10% in dollar volume, both because of the tight farm economy and because of fewer corn-on-corn acres, primarily in the western Corn Belt, says Brian Ahrens of Aventis Crop Science. Some expect another decline in 2002 whether or not Monsanto's transgenic hybrids are available.

The long-term outlook is for more of the same.

“The ultimate big losers as growers shift to rootworm-resistant hybrids will be the granular products,” says Kevin Steffey, extension entomologist at the University of Illinois. “Seed treatments lend themselves to the greatest ease of use for resistance management, but the liquid insecticides could hold in there, too.”

This hierarchy of long-term insecticide winners and losers is in contrast to the quality of rootworm control as measured by root ratings, Steffey points out. In general, granular products come out on top, followed by liquids and seed treatments. But the difference in root protection often doesn't affect yield.

“Most farmers don't face the pressure we have in our research plots,” he says. “Using something that won't hold up to heavy pressure will work most of the time. For example, seed treatments are pretty reliable as long as the pressure is not real heavy. But if the root rating starts to nudge over 4.5, the seed treatments will not make people real happy.”

Although granular insecticides face a tough future, in many cases the companies behind the products also will be major players in the rootworm-resistant seed market. Dow AgroSciences (both separately and in cooperation with Pioneer Hi-Bred) and Syngenta are actively developing rootworm-resistant hybrids.

“Rootworm-resistant hybrids are very exciting tools, and we believe adoption will be very favorable,” says Steve Miller of Syngenta.

But growers will still need to pay attention to secondary insects, because rootworm-resistant hybrids don't control these pests. So insecticides will continue to be needed, adds Tony Klemm, DowAgro's Lorsban product manager.

Secondary insect pests already are receiving more attention than in the past, Steffey notes.

“We don't have research on this, but my gut tells me that problems with secondary insects are becoming greater as we plant earlier,” he says. “The number of acres affected by these secondary pests is way below corn rootworm acres, but it is growing.”

In the future, you can expect manufacturers to increasingly concentrate on secondary insects as the market for corn rootworm insecticides shrinks.

Here are details from manufacturers on their products for 2002.

AMVAC Chemical Corporation

AMVAC will add a bagged, 2.5% version of Fortress insecticide to its two other insecticide offerings for 2002.

Fortress 2.5G joins Fortress 5G and Aztec 4.67G, which are available only for application through the SmartBox closed delivery system. AMVAC purchased the rights to SmartBox technology (along with Fortress) from DuPont in early 2000.

Adding a lower-load bagged version of Fortress will contribute to an anticipated 20 to 25% sales growth for AMVAC in 2002, says David Cassidy, AMVAC executive vice president. AMVAC experienced a similar volume jump in 2001, stimulated by an 11% price cut and the addition of Aztec 4.67G to the SmartBox product lineup.

“Fortress 2.5G compares quite favorably to the top products, both on corn rootworms and secondary pests,” Cassidy says. “We think it will be priced to the grower in the neighborhood of Lorsban.”

AMVAC continues to offer an incentive program to help growers pay for the SmartBox application system, which is the only EPA-recognized closed handling system for granular products. Under the program, a grower treating about 500 acres of corn annually with a 12-row planter would own the application system after three years.

All three AMVAC insecticides are eligible for the Pioneer Hi-Bred Tru Choice preferred financing program for 2002.

In a transgenic future, Cassidy says the SmartBox system, which includes a computerized in-cab controller, will work well for planting refuge acres, as well as conventional corn. A grower could easily plant a refuge of conventional corn within a field of rootworm-resistant corn using the controller and the electronic metering system to apply insecticide to the conventional corn on specified rows. The controller can download data on actual insecticide use by field to verify refuge status.

Aventis

After four years on the market, Regent 4SC achieved 18% market share last year. It was the top corn rootworm insecticide in Nebraska, Kansas and Minnesota, says Ahrens, Regent product manager for Aventis.

“We have close to 5,000 customers across the Corn Belt who are using Regent 4SC,” Ahrens says. “Growers like the performance and the convenience of a liquid that is compatible with all commercial brands of pop-up fertilizers. Regent also is the only corn rootworm insecticide that offers control of first-brood corn borers.”

In 2002, Aventis will continue to defray the cost of buying and installing 1-Pass application systems, which are available from Redball and RHS. Under the program, the entire cost of the system is covered for a typical grower who treats 400 acres of corn annually for two years. Under a new Harvest Partner program for 2002, the cost of a system can be defrayed with purchases of a combination of Regent and other Aventis products.

Also new for 2002, Redball will be offering a 1-Pass option that provides true ground speed compensation with new and existing 1-Pass systems.

For the first time, growers in New York state will be able to use Regent in 2002. The state granted full registration for the product in September 2001.

In 2003, Aventis will consider a new, lower labeled rate for control of secondary insects only. For now, only the full corn rootworm rate of 3.2 oz./acre is labeled.

BASF

Like many of its competitors, BASF has announced no new programs for Counter insecticide for 2002.

“Since the introduction of Counter in 1974, we have attracted a large group of loyal customers who think of Counter as setting the standard for corn rootworm performance,” says Kent Stickler, BASF market manager. “Counter is part of an entire portfolio of products that covers every aspect of corn production. Our goal is to support growers through our entire portfolio.”

In recent years, corn nematodes have been attracting more attention from growers in parts of the Corn Belt, Stickler says. “Counter controls more than corn rootworms,” he says. “It also controls secondary insects such as white grubs, wireworms and corn nematodes.”

The Counter Lock 'N' Load closed handling system continues to be the dominant means of Counter application, representing about three-fourths of product sales. In 2002, BASF will again offer programs to help growers defray the cost of upgrading insecticide boxes to the Lock 'N' Load system.

Bayer

Market share of Aztec 2.1G insecticide increased in 2001, with a 6% increase in sales, says Jon Mixson, Aztec marketing manager.

Bayer introduced a new dust-free carrier but is going back to the previous clay formulation in 2002. The Biodac paper-based carrier suffered from concerns over static cling, which sometimes resulted in small amounts of product or residue remaining in bags. There also were product flow issues resulting from paper fiber buildup in insecticide boxes, Mixson says.

“Both formulations offer the same reliable performance of Aztec. For the majority of our production, we're changing back to the original clay formulation to bypass these issues,” he says.

Growers continue to be impressed with the longer-lasting residual and broad-spectrum control of secondary pests that Aztec provides, Mixson says. “Aztec has two active ingredients: tebupirimphos, a low-rate organophosphate, and cyfluthrin, a synthetic pyrethroid. These allow Aztec to provide more consistent broad-spectrum insect control than other soil insecticides.”

Another change for 2002 is a beefed-up bag. The laminated bag will be more durable and will reduce the potential for breakdown of clay particles. Aztec also will be shipped to retailers on larger pallets to minimize damage during transportation and loading.

Aztec 2.1G purchases qualify for Pioneer Hi-Bred's Tru Choice preferred financing program in 2002.

Dow AgroSciences

Lorsban 15G will be the most cost-effective and economical corn rootworm insecticide available in 2002, claims Tony Klemm, product manager for Dow AgroSciences.

Dow continues to promote a $2/acre price advantage over key competitors. “Lorsban 15G is a great way to buy some cheap insurance from insects on your corn,” Klemm says.

Lorsban 15G purchases also will qualify for the Pioneer Hi-Bred Tru Choice preferred financing program in 2002. This can further reduce the cost of corn rootworm control, Klemm notes.

During 2001, Lorsban became the first corn rootworm insecticide to pass EPA's rigorous reregistration process required under the Food Quality Protection Act.

Lorsban 15G uses remain essentially unchanged, Klemm notes. It continues to be the only non-restricted-use granular corn rootworm insecticide on the market. It carries a “caution” label, the lowest human hazard signal word.

FMC

FMC is aggressively courting market share for Capture liquid insecticide with its new Acres Ahead equipment program. A cooperative venture with John Deere, the program offers dedicated application equipment free or at steeply discounted prices, depending on the amount of Capture purchased during 2002.

Shifting to a liquid insecticide allows a grower to remove insecticide boxes from the planter, which makes room for larger, 3-bu. seed boxes. Growers with Deere planters can qualify for significant discounts on the higher-capacity seed boxes, says Bob West of FMC.

Deere dealers will install the speed-compensated Capture application system, developed in cooperation with Raven Industries, regardless of planter brand. Under the program, the cost of the application unit, plus installation, would be covered for a grower treating 500 acres of corn.

“We went to Deere because we're not equipment people,” West says. “The partnership came about because both companies are trying to help growers increase the efficiencies of their operations.”

FMC is emphasizing efficiency, simplicity and product handling safety as it attempts to convert growers to Capture. West points out that with Capture's carrier rate of 3 gal./acre, it's practical to add a tank that reduces the number of insecticide refills to two or three per day. Doubling the seed box size increases the number of acres per seed fill to about 120 acres on a 12-row planter.

The company also is positioning Capture for the long term. West points out that Capture is the first corn rootworm insecticide to have a lower labeled rate for seedling pests. In the future, on acres planted with hybrids with built-in corn rootworm protection, growers would have the option of using Capture for secondary insect control.

Gustafson

After a successful 2001 introduction, Prescribe (for corn rootworms and secondary pests) and Gaucho (secondaries only) seed-applied insecticides will be available on more hybrids from more companies in 2002.

“Last year, nearly 100 seed companies marketed Gaucho and/or Prescribe on their seed,” says Paul Holliday, corn product manager for Gustafson. “This year there will be many more companies offering one or both products.”

Market research shows that three quarters of the growers who planted Prescribe-treated seed last year will plant the same amount or more in 2002. And about 90% of Gaucho growers said they will plant at least as much Gaucho-treated seed in 2002, Holliday says.

Growers should order these seed-applied products early. Last year, most seed companies treated seed to order and had relatively early cutoff dates. Some companies might have later deadlines this year, but early cutoffs again are likely to be the norm, Holliday says.

For a list of companies selling Gaucho and Prescribe, visit www.seedappliedinsecticide.com or contact your seed dealer.

In the future (EPA willing), Prescribe and Gaucho will have competition from another Gustafson product currently under test. Its active ingredient, clothianidin, is stronger on corn rootworms than the active in Prescribe. Prescribe is recommended for light to moderate corn rootworm pressure, but the new active won't have that qualifier. Look for the new product in 2003 or 2004, Holliday says.

Syngenta

Syngenta is expanding the number of NK corn hybrids treated with Force ST to 28 in all maturity ranges in 2002. That's up from 18 hybrids last year.

Seed treated with Force ST performed well on corn rootworms in 2001, says Marc Hennen, Syngenta corn marketing manager.

“Root ratings with Force ST are comparable to ratings from other control methods,” Hennen says. “The main aspects of performance — yield and standability — are even with the other insecticide products.”

Force ST will be competitively priced with other control options. NK does not have an early order requirement for Force ST hybrids. But given the lead time for treating and conditioning seed, popular treated hybrids could sell out, Hennen says.

On the granular side of the market, Syngenta's Force 3G also will be competitively priced in 2002, says Steve Miller, product manager. “We have a top-notch product and our customers are very loyal,” he says. “The high satisfaction level of farmers who have used Force 3G tells you about the results they have experienced.”

As early as 2003, Syngenta could have a new seed-applied insecticide, Cruiser, on the market. It controls secondary seed, soil and foliar insects, including wireworm, southern corn leaf beetle, seed corn maggot and chinch bug. Cruiser already is registered in wheat, sorghum and cotton.