Buffeted by the tight ag economy, higher nitrogen prices and the specter of rootworm-resistant hybrids beginning in 2002, the corn rootworm insecticide market is more competitive this year.

Most manufacturers are holding the line on prices, although some may lower them.

Two new corn rootworm insecticides have been introduced: Prescribe, a seed-applied insecticide from Gustafson, and Capture, a liquid from FMC. Gustafson also has introduced Gaucho, a seed-applied insecticide for secondary corn insect pests.

Bayer is introducing a new no-dust formulation of Aztec 2.1G. You'll also be able to purchase a higher-load 4.67G version of Aztec from Amvac Chemical Corporation for use in SmartBox applicators.

How much of a threat?

As always, a fundamental question — what will insect pressure be like in 2001 — forms the backdrop for evaluating corn rootworm control measures.

The answer is available to growers who scouted fields for corn rootworm beetles last summer. But for the majority of growers, who don't regularly scout for corn rootworm, predicting 2001 insect pressure is a guess.

“In Illinois, based on adult counts last summer, you would expect corn rootworm pressure to be lower in 2001,” says Dr. Kevin Steffey, University of Illinois extension entomologist. But in other areas, beetle counts were up.

The best bet if you didn't scout? Talk to neighbors who may have scouted for beetles.

The range of the western corn rootworm phenotype that lays eggs in soybeans didn't grow in 2000 after having spread significantly in previous years, Steffey says. The variant is likely to be active in 28 central Illinois counties in 2001, plus northern Indiana and parts of western Ohio and southern Michigan.

Steffey notes that two seed-applied insecticides, Prescribe from Gustafson and Force ST from Syngenta, now are labeled for corn rootworm control. University research on these products is limited, but early studies suggest that control from these products may not be adequate when infestations are heavy. “If the infestations are light to moderate, the control they offer is okay,” Steffey says.

Secondary pests

Secondary insect pressure was up in many areas across the Corn Belt in 2000. Steffey says it's difficult to predict the outlook for 2001.

“Secondary insects are close to impossible to predict,” he says. “Last year the increase in secondary pests was due to the mild winter and early planting. At this point, it's hard to know whether secondary insects will be a problem again in 2001.”

Wireworms, white grubs and grape colaspis are subterranean insects, so you must decide whether to treat them at planting, before you know whether they will be a problem, Steffey notes.

Which secondary pests were active in your area last year can help you decide whether to apply an insecticide this year and, if so, which one to use, since a specific product may be a better choice on certain secondary insects.

With recent problems with secondary insects, companies have been focusing attention on claims for control of these pests. However, Steffey warns, “the data to support control of white grubs and grape colaspis are limited.”

Products for 2001

Here's a look at how manufacturers are positioning their products this year.

Amvac Chemical Corporation. Last year, California-based Amvac purchased the Fortress soil insecticide business from Dupont, including Dupont's position in SmartBox technology. This year, Amvac is broadening the SmartBox product offering with the addition of Aztec 4.67G insecticide from Bayer.

“Farmers have been asking to have more than one corn soil insecticide product available for use in the SmartBox system,” says David Cassidy, Amvac executive vice president. “Typically, farmers do not use one soil insecticide year after year, and now farmers with the SmartBox system have a second, top-performing insecticide available to them.”

As with Fortress, the SmartBox version of Aztec is applied at a lower rate (3.27 lbs./acre in 30-in. rows). Amvac claims that the combination of the SmartBox system and the products deliver superior control of soil insects; permit the grower to plant up to 185 acres with a 12-row system without changing boxes; provide an accurate and consistent application rate even as planting speed changes; and provide the grower with an unmatched level of safety.

Cassidy says both Fortress and Aztec will be priced competitively with other corn rootworm insecticides. He encourages farmers to call their dealers for specifics on pricing.

Aventis CropScience. Aventis has added the secondary insect pest grape colaspis to the Regent label. It also made a minor formulation change to improve handling and complete emptying. Pricing will be stable to slightly higher than last year's prices, says Rob Phillips, Regent product manager. For the first time, Regent purchases will qualify for BASF Harvest Partner benefits.

Grape colaspis was added to the label based on new university research. Regent's label also lists first-generation European corn borer and several other secondary pests, as well as corn rootworm species.

“We saw a significant increase in plant stands in grape colaspis trials conducted by the University of Illinois,” Phillips says.

This year, Aventis is offering a $3/acre rebate program on purchase of 1-Pass closed-system application equipment available from Redball or RHS. Consult your dealer or local Aventis sales representative for details.

BASF. Counter insecticide, which is in its first year in the BASF stable, “continues to be the standard for consistent top corn rootworm control,” says Kent Stickler, corn marketing manager for BASF. “Counter is the only soil insecticide that controls nematodes as well as a range of secondary pests, including white grubs, cutworms and wireworms.”

Prices from a year ago will remain stable.

Stickler warns that growers should be wary of eliminating corn rootworm insecticides from their programs. “Growers should consider the importance of protecting their other input investments when they make at-planting input choices,” he says. “With higher input costs, especially nitrogen, having a healthy plant will be more critical than ever.”

Bayer. Bayer is launching Aztec 2.1G with a new no-dust carrier for 2001. Amvac also is marketing a higher-load 4.67G formulation for growers with SmartBox applicators.

The new Biodac carrier is made from recycled paper pulp. Besides having no dust, it has a more consistent particle size, which leads to even distribution when applied, claims Jon Mixson, Aztec product manager. He claims that, in field tests, this translated to better corn rootworm performance.

“You end up with a product that provides more consistent control and greatly reduces exposure for workers,” he says. “With the new Aztec 2.1G, we show improved root ratings compared to competitive products.”

Aztec will cost $15.33/acre in 30-in. rows.

Dow AgroSciences. The cost of Lorsban 15G will be stable in 2001, following a cut last year that priced the insecticide at $2/acre below competitive products, says Tony Klemm, Lorsban marketing manager.

“I am proud that after 25 years on the market Lorsban is the number-one-selling corn soil insecticide,” he says.

In addition to controlling corn rootworm and key secondary insect pests, Lorsban also has fungistatic properties that help corn perform better and produce higher yields, Klemm claims.

“Last year there was a tremendous amount of stalk rot and lodging,” he says. Because of fungistatic properties, Lorsban 15G inhibits some of the organisms that cause stalk rot. In long-term research, corn treated with Lorsban 15G showed significant yield improvements because of these fungistatic properties.

“In 2000, Lorsban 15G was the most economical treatment, especially when you factor in higher yields,” Klemm claims.

FMC. Capture 2EC insecticide was labeled for corn rootworm control just prior to planting last year. Because of the late approval, 2001 will be the first time most growers will have a chance to use the pyrethroid insecticide. Growers who used the product in 2000 were pleased with performance and yields, company officials claim.

Western Corn Belt growers already may be familiar with Capture, which has been labeled for mite control in corn for several years, says Bob Hooten, technical services representative.

“Capture has different activity than other corn rootworm control products,” Hooten says. “It has the longest residual of any rootworm product. A lot of products give you control only for the first few weeks of egg hatch, while Capture hangs in there for the entire hatch season.”

In addition to controlling major corn rootworm species, Capture controls cutworms, seed corn maggot, wireworm, seed corn beetle and grubs.

It also suppresses grape colaspis, Hooten says. “At the corn rootworm rate, Capture will do better on grape colaspis than other products on the market.”

FMC has a program to equip planters with a state-of-the-art Raven Industries applicator to allow easy conversion from granular application or to set up a planter not previously rigged to apply insecticides. Financial assistance also is available to help defray the costs of converting existing liquid application systems. Capture also can be applied with liquid fertilizer. FMS says Capture will be competitively priced.

Furadan 4F is available for planned or rescue control of corn rootworm larvae. Application must be made with a closed system.

Gustafson. Prescribe and Gaucho are new this year for control of corn rootworm and/or secondary insects. Both are seed-applied insecticides and were available on an early order basis from more than 50 seed companies, says Paul Holliday, corn product manager for Gustafson.

Order cutoff dates for most seed companies offering Prescribe and Gaucho have passed. For a list of seed companies offering these insecticides, check www.seedapplied insecticide.com.

Prescribe protects both seed and seedlings from a broad spectrum of early-season insects; Gaucho offers seed protection. Prescribe is labeled to control corn rootworms and key secondary insect pests, including wireworms, seed corn maggots, white grubs, flea beetles, aphids and thrips.

“One of the key differences between Prescribe and others on the market is that Prescribe has both contact and systemic activity,” Holliday says. “Most soil-applied insecticides do not have systemic activity. Prescribe's performance is quite comparable to other CRW insecticides. The advantage is simplicity. Corn rootworm control comes in the bag, on the seed, and you don't have to worry about calibration or an applicator plugging up.”

Seed companies selling Gaucho-treated seed are expected to price it at $3.50 to $4.50/acre. Gustafson says the price of Prescribe-treated seed will be competitive with the prices of other corn rootworm insecticides.

Syngenta. After a launch with limited hybrids in 2000, Syngenta is expanding availability of ProShield Technology with Force ST-treated seed to 20 NK corn hybrids in 2001. Hybrids are in the 85- to 117-day maturity range, says Marc Hennen, corn marketing manager for Syngenta Seeds.

Meanwhile, Force 3G granular insecticide continues to offer top performance for growers who prefer a soil-applied insecticide, say Steve Miller, North American brand manager for Syngenta insecticides. He says that Warrior insecticide saw more use last year where secondary insects were a problem, including as lower-rate in-furrow applications to control wireworm under special labels in several Midwest states.

Most of the new ProShield hybrids are adapted to areas where corn rootworm control is most needed, including Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas, Hennen says. There are no cutoff dates for ordering ProShield, although some popular hybrids may not be available with the ProShield treatment.

ProShield is a patented seed-coating system that allows Syngenta's Force ST to be applied to individual seeds. In addition to controlling corn rootworm, ProShield controls major secondary insects, including white grub, seed corn maggot and wireworm.

In a survey of growers who planted ProShield-treated seed last year, they gave the seed high performance ratings, Hennen says.

“Growers were very excited about the convenience factor and we had excellent response on performance,” he says. “About 85% said they would plant the same amount or more in 2001.”

Field performance of ProShield-treated hybrids is comparable to performance of corn treated with soil insecticides, although root ratings may be slightly lower, Hennen says.

“Our yield performance against granulars is equal,” he says. “We feel very positive about how ProShield has performed in farmers' fields and in research trials.”

End of the road?

As corn rootworm insecticide manufacturers position their products for 2001, they have their eyes on 2002, when Pioneer and Monsanto expect to introduce the first corn rootworm-resistant hybrids.

They fear that the introduction of those hybrids will spell the beginning of a rapid erosion of the market for soil-applied corn rootworm insecticides.

“The glory days of in-furrow insecticides are limited,” says Rob Phillips, Aventis product manager for Regent insecticide.

“This is the Roundup Ready/Pursuit situation all over again. Either you conform to this new reality or die. The insecticide market will get extremely competitive as this winds down,” Phillips predicts.

“I believe that rootworm-tolerant corn will provide growers an effective alternative for protecting their seed from rootworm damage,” adds Steve Miller, North American brand manager for Syngenta insecticides, including Force. “Once the emotions are sorted out surrounding customer acceptance, adoption of these hybrids will be quick.”

Miller and others say that insecticide manufacturers will shift their attention to secondary insect seed treatments, which Monsanto and Pioneer have signaled they may include with rootworm-resistant hybrids. Already, Monsanto has announced it will use Gustafson's secondary insect treatment Gaucho on all MaxGard rootworm-resistant hybrids planted in Experimental Use Permit tests this summer.

“Seed treatments will become an insurance policy to protect very valuable genetics,” Miller says. He notes that Syngenta is evaluating low rates of tefluthrin (the active ingredient in Force) for use as a seed treatment for secondary pests.