For Bob Suiter, it wasn't a matter of if he should control rootworms in first-year corn, but how. Several years ago, Suiter's fields and the fields of his neighbors were diagnosed with an infestation of extended diapause corn rootworms. Even after a season in soybeans, enough rootworm eggs carried over to create significant corn yield loss.

Suiter's farm near Earl Park, IN, became part of a three-county pest management study sponsored by the University of Illinois and the USDA. Rather than treating the soil as a preventive measure, the researchers looked at the benefits of spraying the adult beetles three times over the summer. Their data showed that, in his area, Suiter could expect a 5- to 20-bu. gain by treating rootworms in first-year corn. Other results were mixed.

“Controlling the adult populations did show a yield advantage of about nine bushels per acre,” Suiter says. “But we could see that it didn't take long for the winged adults to move in again. Especially on field edges, the adult control measures just weren't doing it. We were especially hard hit because a lot of our acres are on contract for waxy and food corn. The genetics on those hybrids are a bit older, so their root systems tend to be smaller, making the plants more susceptible to yield loss from rootworm feeding.” Suiter's food-corn contracts also meant that he wouldn't be able to use the new genetically modified rootworm-resistant hybrids.

Dry, soil-applied insecticides appeared to be the only option, but Suiter kept looking for a better way. “I really didn't like dry insecticide because of the bag handling and potential for dust exposure, but control from the liquid insecticides just didn't seem to last as long.”

Suiter did notice some positive university data for FMC's Capture liquid insecticide. Though still skeptical, he decided to test it on his own fields. When he saw a 15- to 20-bu. yield advantage compared with the yield from the check strips, he decided to try the insecticide on more acres.

Purchase agreement

In 2002, Suiter was among the first farmers to take advantage of the AcresAhead program cosponsored by John Deere and FMC Corporation. Suiter signed a contract agreeing to buy at least 30 gal. of Capture in a two-year period. In exchange, FMC and John Deere installed about $3,000 worth of application equipment on Suiter's Deere planter. At 5.12 oz. of Capture/acre, Suiter had no problem meeting his end of the bargain on 3,200 acres of corn. A gallon of Capture treats about 25 acres.

FMC likes the deal too; with a farmer's cost for Capture at about $15/acre, the company can recoup its investment quickly. FMC and John Deere continue to promote the Acres Ahead program as a way to get more growers to try Capture.

In 2003, Suiter upgraded to a John Deere DB-90 36-row planter and had a second FMC-sponsored spray system installed. “It's really a pretty good system,” Suiter says. “I can mix liquid starter fertilizer in with the insecticide if I want to. And the Raven monitor automatically adjusts to increase or decrease the flow according to my 8520T tractor's radar-monitored ground speed.” Suiter varies his seeding rate by soil type and over irrigated versus nonirrigated acres. He says the tractor's AutoTrac assisted steering feature makes it possible to pull the 90-ft.-wide planter in a straight line at his preferred planting speed of 5.5 mph.

Captive customers

Once a farmer installs the Capture LiquidReady system, it's virtually guaranteed that he'll be an FMC liquid insecticide customer for more than one season.

Jamie Leifker, product manager from FMC, explains how the system fits into the company's AcresAhead program. “The monitor is just like a computer; we have a maintenance code that we enter every year for the system to work. This does two things. It allows us to make updates to the performance of the system and the monitor, and it helps us protect our investment in the equipment. Believe me, it is an investment.” Without a “maintenance code” from FMC, the spray system simply will not operate.

Overall, the Deere/FMC partnership on AcresAhead has been a good fit. But does it create a rift between farmers and other companies' planter systems? As Leifker sees it, it's a matter of seeing a trend and taking the lead. “John Deere recognized the shift to liquid insecticides, which will account for nearly 40% of the at-plant insecticide market this year,” he says. “FMC, John Deere and the grower are all headed in the right direction together — speed, efficiency, safety and accuracy.”

Leifker says FMC also has a fair amount of Capture LiquidReady systems on White, Case and Kinze planters, but these are mostly initiated by the farmers themselves. John Deere Seeding Group's Chad Braden says all new John Deere 30- and 40-ft. models now include options for factory-mounted liquid insecticide tanks. Future product offerings will have options for liquid insecticide tanks as well.

“The AcresAhead program with FMC is becoming more popular,” Braden says. “Customers who purchase new planters with factory-mounted insecticide tanks can receive the Capture LiquidReady system free of charge. Installation and associated charges for installation or optional equipment of the Capture LiquidReady system is the responsibility of the grower and John Deere dealer. It is usually included in the setup price of the planter from the dealer and is paid by the customer.”

Open to all

Braden says the AcresAhead program is open to customers of both new and used planters of all makes, not just John Deere planters. The majority of customers who take advantage of the program are new-planter buyers.

What would it cost for a farmer to install a liquid insecticide system on his planter without signing a contract with FMC? Braden says costs can vary, but generally, liquid insecticide equipment is available from a variety of sources for approximately $2,000. The tanks cost an additional $750 to $1,400, depending on size, and installation will range from $500 to $1,000, depending on size of the planter. In total, the cost ranges from $3,250 to $4,400 for a basic system. Optional radar interface cables, in-furrow seed firmers and half-width disconnect features add cost.

“As planters get larger [40 to 60 ft. or greater], the cost for liquid insecticide equipment is substantially less than for granular equipment,” Braden says. “Granular is fixed per row or foot of width, whereas liquid costs get smaller per row or per foot of width.”

Plenty of options

Chuck Johnson, a field operations manager with Case IH, points to some factors growers should consider when making a choice in insecticide delivery.

“Everyone wants a convenient and safe way to apply insecticide,” Johnson says. “Convenience translates into productivity and more acres planted per day. Safety derived from closed containers or not transferring dusty product is a big plus. However, the question comes down to the effectiveness of the product and whether the grower is getting the maximum protection for each dollar spent.”

According to Johnson, granular insecticide, and the equipment to apply it, allows the grower to more adequately incorporate the product throughout a greater profile around the seed and future root zone, providing broader protection throughout the critical development stages of a corn plant.

“While liquid insecticides have gained much attention because of ease and convenience of handling, the downside with some of the early generations of these products has been inadequate effectiveness around the developing root system,” Johnson says.

He points out that Case IH does not want to restrict its customers from using whatever pest control product they feel is the most effective for them. “Our customers can order granular chemical insecticide as a factory-installed option or as a field-installed attachment to fit all models of planters we build,” he says. “Our customers can also acquire liquid systems from any one of several third-party entities that provide liquid systems that are designed to fit on the 1200 series Case IH planters.”

A granular chemical system typically costs the grower around $330/row, but that can vary slightly with accessory attachments, such as wind hoods. The cost of liquid systems varies depending on the manufacturer.

Looking at the reliability of granular versus liquid systems, Johnson says neither system is inherently more reliable or requires higher maintenance. “From an operation standpoint, however, granular systems are less complex and have been proven for years,” he says. “Granular chemical systems involve maintenance of chain drives and metering rolls, while liquid systems involve pump and hose maintenance.”

Johnson points out that many growers are successfully splitting their liquid insecticide application by applying a portion of the liquid insecticide with their liquid fertilizer, creating a “T-Band” effect using a Rebounder Y-Not attachment. “The Rebounder Y-Not Split-It is designed for fertilizer application to keep the fertilizer in the seed zone but off of the seed,” Johnson says. “This works with the liquid insecticide also by applying it to both sides of the seed. The remainder insecticide is applied as usual in the seed trench to provide protection to the seed directly. Many use direct-injection systems, allowing the fertilizer and insecticide to remain in separate tanks and mixed in the fertilizer tubes.”

The future of at-planting corn insect control is fuzzy at best. What's good is that there are plenty of options, including rootworm-resistant hybrids, granular and liquid insecticides, and seed treatments.

For now, Suiter is satisfied with the control he's getting with liquid insecticide. “In addition to rootworms, Capture also does a good job on grubs, cutworms and wireworms,” he says. “I'm also impressed by some of the new insecticide seed treatments. I tried Syngenta's Cruiser seed treatment on some acres last year and noticed a 7-bu. yield increase. Having a healthier corn plant from the beginning seems to make a big difference.”

The straight story on rootworm diapause


Consider the alternatives before you decide to spend upwards of $180 for a bag of rootworm-resistant seed corn or $15/acre for insecticide.

Mike Catangui, an associate professor at South Dakota State University, recently published a paper to help answer grower questions about Monsanto's YieldGard rootworm-resistant hybrids and how they relate to the realities of rootworm infestation. Catangui's research included data from SDSU research entomologist Billy Fuller, which showed that the genetically modified hybrids suffered virtually no root pruning damage, performing better than conventional hybrids treated with various granular insecticides.

Catangui, however, remains skeptical about the prevalence of rootworm damage in first-year corn. He recommends that you make sure extended diapause is a problem in your area. If it's not, a conventional rotation might still work for you.

“Extended diapause is a real problem in some corn fields,” Catangui writes. “And growers in known extended diapause areas who do not rotate out of corn for at least two seasons will experience severe yield losses. However, it is important to realize that extended diapause eggs cannot last for over one growing season. Thus, fields with extended diapause rootworms can still be managed through crop rotation if the grower is able to rotate out of corn for at least two growing seasons. For example, a corn-soybean-soybean-corn rotation will effectively control extended diapause northern corn rootworms. Other rotations such as corn-soybean-oats-corn or corn-soybean-wheat-corn will also work.”

Catangui laments, “Currently, chemical and seed companies are using extended diapause rootworms mainly to promote use of their products without mentioning the different types of crop rotation schemes.”

On-seed rootworm control


Seed-applied insecticides have long been effective at stopping early-season pests such as wireworms and seed corn maggots. But the treatments were typically not long lasting or powerful enough to protect against corn root worms through tasseling. As recently as two years ago, university agronomists remained skeptical that a seed treatment could be an effective option for rootworm control. That's starting to change thanks to new systemic chemistries and safeners that protect the seed from the rootworm-killing chemicals.

A 2002 corn rootworm insecticide test from Kansas State University found some new seed treatments to be at least as effective as most soil-applied insecticides in stopping rootworm feeding. Products tested in that study included Syngenta's Cruiser and Force ST; Gustafson's Prescribe, which has a higher rate of the active ingredient in Gaucho; and a new chemical from Gustafson, approved by the EPA in June 2003, called clothianidin.

Gustafson will market clothianidin under the names Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250. The numbers indicate different application rates and protection levels. Poncho 250 (0.25 mg active ingredient per seed) controls early-season damage and stand loss caused by cutworms, wireworms, seed corn maggots, white grubs, chinch bugs, flea beetles and numerous other pests. The higher-rate 1250 (1.25 mg active ingredient per seed) is required to provide protection against corn rootworms.

Gustafson product manager Paul Holliday explains that the company is positioning Poncho as a price-competitive and effective alternative to soil-applied insecticides. The company also is looking to be a partner in the coming boom in rootworm-resistant corn hybrids.

“Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 have an ideal fit with the new biotech rootworm hybrids,” Holliday says. “The rootworm-resistant hybrids help protect against rootworm damage but don't provide the protection against other yield-robbing insects that Poncho 250 delivers.”

Holliday says that Poncho 1250 would be a good choice for the adjacent refuge acres required when planting a rootworm-resistant hybrid. “Now, with Poncho 1250 alone, or with a biotech rootworm hybrid teamed with Poncho 250, there's no need to calibrate insecticide applicators or return containers,” he explains. “With either choice, time previously required for loading insecticide hoppers can be spent planting or completing other chores. Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 have outstanding safety features. And with either choice, the protection is delivered to the farm, on the seed, in the bag.”

Many seed companies are expected to offer corn hybrids protected with Poncho 250 and Poncho 1250 for planting in 2004. Seed companies will likely price the treatment to be competitive with soil-applied insecticides. For rootworm control, that's somewhere in the $14 to $17/acre range.