With the anticipated approval of Monsanto's YieldGard Rootworm hybrids, the year 2003 may be the beginning of an era dominated by corn hybrids with built-in corn rootworm protection.

But with limited supplies of the new hybrids, an expected increase in U.S. corn acres, and continued strong insect pressure, the era of corn rootworm insecticide use is ending not with a bleat, but a bit of a roar.

After last year's nearly 20% increase in sales of corn rootworm (CRW) insecticide to almost 20 million acres, manufacturers predict that 2003 will be another strong sales year. Treated acreage could climb slightly. Prices are expected to be up about 3% on some insecticides, after holding stable or falling slightly in recent years. And several new insecticides will be introduced, along with Monsanto's new CRW-protected hybrids.

All types used

Last year's insecticide sales increase buoyed all formulation types, including granules, liquids and seed-applied products. But on a percentage basis, sales of liquids and seed-applied formulations rose more than sales of granules as more growers got rid of insecticide boxes in anticipation of a stronger reliance on genetically enhanced CRW-protected seeds.

“Many growers want to make a technology switch to corn rootworm-protected hybrids and discontinue using insecticides,” says Ken Ostlie, University of Minnesota extension entomologist. But that is not realistic because of the need to treat rootworms on the insect resistance management acres that are required with the use of CRW hybrids, as well as on conventional fields. That realization has boosted interest in seed treatments and liquids, Ostlie adds.

“Farmers are attracted to the simplicity of seed treatments and liquid products compared to granular formulations,” he says. However, research results from the last couple of years show that neither the liquids under drought conditions nor the seed treatments under heavy infestations provide the same level of control as the granules, he notes. New seed-applied insecticides from Syngenta and Gustafson may offer better CRW control than existing seed treatments, but they are still best suited to fields with low to moderate CRW pressure, Ostlie says.

“The challenge for growers is to know if they have a high-risk CRW situation,” he says. “A lot of growers don't have scouting data to determine what their risk is.”

Infestations

Going into 2003, growers should be aware of the damage potential from both CRW and early-season insects, such as wireworm. Ostlie notes that CRW infestations of first-year corn appear to be worsening in many areas. In Minnesota and Iowa, for example, more acres are being affected by extended diapause of northern CRW. In Illinois, Indiana and surrounding states, egg laying by western CRW in soybean fields continues to force more growers to use insecticides on first-year corn.

Early-season insects also seem to be proliferating across the Corn Belt. Scientists are debating causes ranging from warmer winters, earlier planting, less tillage and the fading impact of extended-residual CRW insecticides used in the '50s and '60s.

Ostlie says growers should consider an insecticide seed treatment or hopper-box treatment for corn not being treated with a CRW insecticide that controls secondary pests. “Only a grower can decide how much insurance he needs and how much he can afford, but this is worth considering,” he says.

Jockeying for position

This year insecticide manufacturers are jockeying for position in the shifting marketplace. Syngenta and BASF are adding seed treatment or liquid products. EPA willing, Gustafson will add a new seed treatment to its lineup by spring. And Helena Chemical Company is introducing its first-ever CRW insecticide, a granular product with the same active ingredient as FMC's Capture liquid insecticide. Meanwhile, traditional granular insecticide manufacturers emphasize that their products' superior control will continue to make them an important option.

Here's what companies have to say about new products and marketing programs for 2003.

New control options

YieldGard Rootworm

After preparing to launch its long-awaited CRW-protected hybrids each of the past two seasons, Monsanto says its YieldGard Rootworm hybrids finally will be commercialized in 2003, assuming final regulatory approval comes through as anticipated.

At press time, Monsanto had full USDA and FDA approvals for commercialization and was waiting only for final details on insect resistance management requirements from EPA to receive that agency's final sign-off for food and feed use. Japanese regulators also have given full food and feed approval for the technology, and an okay from Canada is expected by planting, according to Monsanto.

In the fall of 2000, Monsanto pledged that it would not commercialize CRW-protected seed without those approvals from the U.S. and Japanese agencies in hand. The company is continuing to seek okays for CRW technology in other countries and regions, including the European Union (EU). Given the EU's de facto moratorium on new genetically enhanced (GE) crops, Monsanto will ask growers who plant YieldGard Rootworm hybrids to market the corn through elevators and other outlets that segregate CRW and other GE hybrids for approved markets only. YieldGard Rootworm hybrid seed bags will carry the Market Choices symbol and direct growers to a list of elevators, which is maintained by the American Seed Trade Association at www.amseed.org.

YieldGard Rootworm hybrids will be available from Monsanto's flagship DeKalb and Asgrow seed brands, as well as more than 100 seed company partners. Supplies are expected to be limited, but trial quantities will be available in maturities ranging from 95 to 114 days, says Jennifer Ozimkiewicz of Monsanto. In addition to built-in CRW control, all seed will be treated with an insecticide to control early-season insects such as wireworms and seed corn maggots.

Growers can expect YieldGard Rootworm hybrids to provide better, more consistent control of CRW larvae than the best granular insecticides, says Todd DeGooyer, crop technology manager for Monsanto.

“We are seeing consistent control throughout the season and under extreme environmental conditions,” he says. “We saw about a 5 bu./acre yield advantage over common insecticides averaged across 19 locations in 2001, and a 15 bu./acre advantage over untreated corn.”

Growers who plant YieldGard Rootworm will be required to follow an insect resistance management program, which had not been set at press time.

Cruiser

Syngenta received EPA approval to market its Cruiser seed treatment insecticide in late October, just in time to treat seed for 2003. Because of the late registration, Cruiser will be available from a limited number of seed companies. For a list of seed companies and hybrids, visit www.cruisercorn.com.

Cruiser is approved for systemic and contact control of a wide range of early-season insect pests, as well as CRW and billbug at a higher use rate. Early-season pests controlled include wireworm, seed corn maggot, white grub, flea beetle, southern corn leaf beetle and chinch bug.

In 2003, Syngenta will market Cruiser primarily for early-season pests and billbugs, says Mark Jirak, seed treatment crop manager for Syngenta. In the longer term, Cruiser also will be an important option for growers who want to control rootworms on CRW-hybrid refuge acres without using a liquid or granular insecticide.

Tests show that, at the higher CRW use rate, Cruiser provides the same yields as granular insecticides under light to moderate rootworm pressure, Jirak says. Syngenta Seeds also markets Force ST seed treatment for control of CRW. Whether Syngenta continues marketing both seed treatments for rootworm control will depend on results from the 2003 use season, Jirak says.

Cruiser is a member of a new subclass having active ingredients called neonicotinoids. Gaucho, Prescribe and Poncho insecticides from Gustafson are in the same class. These actives move systemically throughout the corn plant and protect against target insects through contact and by disrupting receptors that tell insects to feed. Syngenta also markets Cruiser as a seed treatment in cotton, sorghum, barley and wheat. Helix, for canola, contains the same active ingredient.

Poncho

Two years ago Gustafson introduced Gaucho, for control of early-season pests, and Prescribe, which adds CRW control to Gaucho's secondary pest lineup. In 2003, pending EPA approval, Gustafson plans a limited introduction of Poncho, its second-generation seed-applied insecticide. In 2004, Poncho will replace Prescribe, and possibly Gaucho, says Paul Holliday of Gustafson.

Poncho is expected to have full EPA registration by March 2003. Because of that late date, growers probably won't be able to plant Poncho-treated seed in 2003. But it will show up in seed company demonstration plots across the Corn Belt, Holliday says.

Poncho will be available at two use rates. At the lower secondary insect use rate, Poncho adds black cutworms to the list of secondary insects handled by Gaucho. That list includes seedling protection against wireworms, white grubs, seed corn maggots, imported fire ants, chinch bugs and flea beetles.

At the higher CRW use rate, Poncho controls corn rootworms, wireworms, seed corn maggots, black cutworms, flea beetles through the fifth true-leaf stage, white grubs, chinch bugs, Southern green stink bugs, corn leaf aphids, imported fire ants, thrips and grape colaspis, according to Gustafson.

Empower

Helena Chemical Company launched Empower 1.15 G insecticide on a limited basis in 2002. It will be available across the Corn Belt in 2003.

Unlike most granular insecticides, Empower has a two-rate application structure. For CRW control, the rate is 8.7 lbs./acre in 30-in. rows. To control secondary insects only, the use rate is 6.5 lbs./acre in 30-in. rows.

Empower contains bifenthrin, the same active ingredient that is in Capture liquid insecticide from FMC, but delivered on a clay-based granule. The granule offers Helena's proprietary Asset Formulation technology, which enhances application and activity, says Phil Thien of Helena.

A pyrethroid, Empower doesn't have any herbicide interactions. It carries a Caution signal word. Goggles, gloves and a dust mask should be worn when handling.

Changes to the tried and true

Aztec

Supplies of Aztec insecticide ran out in 2002. This year, Bayer CropScience will manufacture additional Aztec as needed to maintain supplies, says Andrew Seitz of Bayer. The company continues to emphasize Aztec's strong control of secondary insects, including cutworms, wireworms and white grubs.

Capture

FMC has reformulated Capture liquid insecticide to improve its viscosity and mixing at low temperatures, says Bob West of FMC. The company has made minor changes to its application equipment; for example, it has made pumps larger to better handle large planters and improved nozzles for more even application. FMC is expanding the Acres Ahead cooperative equipment program with John Deere. Growers will be able to order Capture application equipment directly from John Deere dealers in 2003. On new John Deere 1790 planters, the Capture system will be supplied with the planter if a tank and bracket are ordered with the planter.

Force

Syngenta will hold the line on Force 3G prices for 2003. Force ST-treated seed will be available on more hybrids than last year — 33 in all. Pricing is unchanged, but under a special promotion, Syngenta Seeds is offering the 11th bag of seed free with the purchase of 10 bags. There is no order cutoff date for seed treated with Force ST, but Syngenta's ability to fill orders for Force ST is limited later in the season due to treatment scheduling and reduced hybrid availability, says Marc Hennen of Syngenta Seeds.

Fortress 5G

To improve CRW control consistency, Amvac Chemical Company has increased the recommended use rate for Fortress 5G to 4 lbs./acre, up from 3.2 lbs./acre, says Ted Ramirez of Amvac. After selling out of SmartBox row application units in 2002, Amvac will have additional new units available in 2003. Amvac continues to assist growers in purchasing and calibrating SmartBox applicators, which are the only EPA-recognized closed-system granular applicators on the market. Amvac's Fortress 5G, Fortress 2.5G and Aztec 4.67G qualify for financing through the Pioneer Hi-Bred TruChoice program, as well as through the Bayer CropScience and AgriGold Seed program.

Lorsban

While several manufacturers plan to increase prices in 2003, the price for Lorsban will remain stable, says Rajan Gajaria of Dow AgroSciences. The company continues to develop GE corn with built-in CRW protection, which it expects will come to market in 2005.

Regent

Regent liquid insecticide received approval for a lower secondary insect control rate in late spring 2002. The new rate is 3 oz./acre for 30-in. rows to control wireworms and seed corn maggot. That compares with 4.16 oz./acre for corn rootworms.

Bayer CropScience is promoting Regent for use with pop-up in-furrow fertilizers. Last year about 45% of Regent was applied with a pop-up, says Brian Ahrens, Regent product manager.

Use of Regent provides assistance towards purchase of one-pass application systems available through Redball Products Company. This year, an additional discount and a $500 credit is available on Redball equipment purchases made before February 28, as well as installation assistance, depending on anticipated treated acreage.

Bayer CropScience plans to sell Regent to BASF in 2003.

Soybean seed treatments


In corn, seed treatments to protect against fungal diseases, and increasingly against insect pests, have been the norm for decades.

Until recently, soybeans have largely been left out of the seed treatment trend. But in recent years, more growers have been planting soybeans that have been protected against diseases, especially early-planted beans. In the future, some soybean seed could be treated with fungicides and insecticides to control diseases and insects that carry diseases, says Wayne Pedersen, University of Illinois plant pathologist.

With ever-earlier soybean planting dates, and less tillage, “we are turning the dial up in terms of the potential for disease problems,” Pedersen says.

Seed treatment instead of more seed

More expensive soybean seed also is a factor behind the trend toward treating soybean seed with fungicides.

“With seed at $25 a bag, more growers are wondering if it is time for precision planting plus a seed treatment instead of increasing the seeding rate to compensate for stand losses to disease,” Pedersen explains. “If you have a choice of planting an extra quarter of a bag or a $1.50 seed treatment, which is cheaper?”

Seed treatments win hands down, except for one factor. Most seed companies won't take back treated seed, Pedersen says. Unlike treated corn seed, which can be successfully stored for several seasons, treated soybean seed can't be held over to the following year because the treatment reduces germination during storage.

Despite that drawback, more growers are requesting that soybean seed be treated with fungicides. They are experiencing better stands and fewer replants.

For early planting

Pedersen suggests ordering treated seed for early-planted fields. “The rule of thumb I have in Illinois is that if you are planting before the first of May, it almost always pays to treat soybean seed,” he says. “If you plant after the first two weeks of May, treating almost never pays. In between is a gray area.”

Typical seed treatments include Apron/Maxim from Syngenta and Rival/Vitavax or Rival/Allegiance from Gustafson.

Someday, if new research pans out, it may also pay to have soybean seed treated with an insecticide to control bean leaf beetle. Pedersen and other scientists are examining whether early-season bean leaf beetle control will reduce bean pod mottle virus, which is carried by the insect. The virus shows up as green stem, which makes harvest difficult.

“In some environments, we have seen a positive response, but not in others,” Pedersen says. At this point, insecticide seed treatments for corn, such as Gaucho and Cruiser, are not labeled for use on soybeans. Pedersen predicts that manufacturers may seek label approval for soybeans if ongoing research shows a benefit.