THE ACREAGE OF CORN planted to hybrids with built-in corn rootworm control is expected to increase again in 2005 as more growers and seed companies join the transgenic revolution. Acreage planted to seed treated to control insect pests is expected to grow substantially, too.
Optimistic sales projections for both transgenic and seed-applied products translate into tougher times for the granular and liquid insecticide market.
In 2004, when an estimated 2 million acres were planted to YieldGard Rootworm hybrids, about 100 seed companies offered the new hybrids. For 2005, more than 200 seed companies are offering the hybrids. Among the major seed companies, all but one — NK Brand, which plans to introduce Syngenta corn transgenic rootworm technology in 2006 or 2007 — have the hybrids in their product portfolios. In many cases, companies are offering more CRW hybrids, with more bags of each hybrid than last year.
Although that was a fivefold increase in YieldGard Rootworm plantings in 2004, up from 400,000 acres the previous year, plantings were lower than industry expectations. Supplies reportedly were available for roughly 3 million acres.
“The adoption curve was slower than expected,” acknowledges Stephen Smith, Mycogen Seeds agronomy services manager. He cites high customer information and training needs, as well as delayed approval by Japan for YieldGard Plus hybrids containing both corn rootworm and corn borer protection, which had been expected in time for planting last year.
For 2005, marketers aren't making specific growth projections, except to say the direction is up. “We expect planting of YieldGard Rootworm hybrids to increase, but I can't put a number out there for how much growth there will be,” says Todd DeGooyer, corn technology manager for Monsanto, which licenses the YieldGard Rootworm trait to seed companies.
Marketers of seed-applied insecticides aren't bashful about growth projections, however. “We expect 45 to 50% of seed to be treated with seed-applied insecticides to control early-season insects,” says Mark Jirak, Syngenta product manager for Cruiser Extreme Pak seed-applied insecticide and fungicide combination.
“The market for Poncho 1250 [corn rootworm rate] is expected to at least double, and the market for Poncho 250 [secondary pest rate] may well triple,” adds Paul Holliday of Gustafson.
Marketers of granular insecticides continue to emphasize that their products provide more consistent control than seed-applied and liquid insecticides do, while acknowledging that convenience is becoming more important to many customers.
“We recognize that times are changing and that is going to put stress on the traditional soil insecticide market,” says Hank King of Dow AgroSciences, which is promoting a liquid formulation of its Lorsban insecticide for 2005, in addition to its granular product, Lorsban 15G. “The granular products have generally been more consistent, longer lasting and provide better control. The liquid products build on the convenience that farmers are demanding. Sometimes there is a balance between convenience and efficacy, and convenience wins out.”
Dow AgroSciences' seed arm, Mycogen Seeds, also sells YieldGard Rootworm hybrids and hopes to introduce its own Herculex RW transgenic hybrids, a joint project with Pioneer, in 2006. King says, “Ultimately, as other transgenic corn rootworm products become available, this will take off as fast as Bollgard cotton,” which has captured 75% of cotton acres since being introduced in 1996.
One offsetting factor that could moderate declines in use of traditional technologies is a potential increase in the number of acres needing corn rootworm protection. Parts of the eastern Corn Belt were hit hard by corn rootworms in 2004, including the western rootworm variant, which lays eggs in soybeans. This type extended its range west of the Illinois River toward the Mississippi River in Illinois and crept south of I-70 in Illinois and Indiana as well. More first-year corn could require protection as a result.
Scientists also note that YieldGard Rootworm's silver-bullet status gathered some tarnish in 2004. While it performed admirably on the vast majority of farm fields and university research plots, performance questions were raised on a small number of fields.
One of the fields was a University of Illinois research plot at Urbana. YieldGard Rootworm there lodged severely after a mid-summer storm, which packed 80- to 90-mph winds in some areas. Scientists examined roots and discovered more extensive root damage than observed earlier in the season or in past trials. However, another YieldGard Rootworm trial planted less than a mile away performed well, notes University of Illinois entomologist Kevin Steffey. (For more details, go to www.ipm.uiuc.edu/bulletin/index.php  and view the September and October issues of the “Bulletin.”)
Reasons for the unexpectedly poor performance probably are complex. Extended corn rootworm larval hatch, gradual in-season declines in the Bt protein that controls corn rootworm, and/or possible variable expression of the Bt protein by differing hybrids all could play a role, Steffey says. Notably, the lodged plot, as well as unaffected YieldGard Rootworm plots at Urbana and other locations, were planted in mid to late April, three to four weeks earlier than in 2003.
Steffey has ruled out resistant corn rootworms as a cause. “That's highly unlikely,” he says. “I don't think anybody is buying that.”
Corn roots in other lodged YieldGard Rootworm fields affected by the Illinois storms were protected by the technology and exhibited little to no root feeding, according to DeGooyer of Monsanto. In some cases, nearby fields planted to non-rootworm hybrids lodged less, perhaps because early rootworm feeding was offset by sufficient soil moisture that contributed to root regeneration that helped anchor plants.
Despite the unexpected damage in 2004, Steffey emphasizes that multiyear university research at Illinois and across the Corn Belt still shows YieldGard Rootworm provides the most consistent corn rootworm control of any protection technology available. It's also premature to suggest altering planting dates or other management practices when planting YieldGard Rootworm hybrids.
“Regardless of this incident, I think YieldGard Rootworm will expand significantly in 2005,” Steffey says. “The technology has very significant benefits.”
New for 2005
YieldGard Plus hybrids, which contain both corn rootworm and corn borer protection, will be available for the first time in 2005. They had been anticipated in 2004, but lack of Japanese approval delayed their introduction. Hybrids with YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2 technology, the industry's first triple-trait offering, also will be available in limited quantities. Check your favorite seed companies for availability.
The new YieldGard Plus hybrids, as well as YieldGard Rootworm hybrids, are marketed under the Market Choices program, which identifies hybrids that lack approval for food and feed use in the European Union. Toll-free information on grain marketing options is available through the 866/735-5267 hotline or by visiting www.866sellcorn.com . Check with your seed company for details on Insect Resistance Management requirements.
Dow AgroSciences plans to market the Lorsban-4E formulation more aggressively than in recent years in hopes of capitalizing on the market built by FMC's Capture insecticide. Both Capture and Lorsban-4E are applied in a T-band. Regent, the other liquid corn rootworm insecticide, is applied in-furrow.
University root rating trials show that Lorsban-4E provides the same level of control as Capture or Regent, King says. Lorsban-4E applied at labeled use rates should cost less than Capture, he adds.
NK Brand Seeds is offering a $4/acre bonus program to Corn Belt growers who purchase Force 3G insecticide for use in fields planted to NK Brand hybrids treated with Cruiser Extreme Pak. See NK dealers for details. Also, Cruiser Extreme Pak CRW has replaced Force ST as the seed-applied insecticide for corn rootworm control on NK Brand hybrids.
The totally closed insecticide system from Amvac Chemical Corporation is now available with three corn soil insecticides: Force 3G, Fortress 5G and Aztec 4.67G. Marketing director Ted Ramirez says SmartBox sales continue to grow even as in-seed control of corn rootworm builds. He says the SmartBox is a good alternative to corn rootworm control in the seed because insecticides treat both corn rootworm and secondary pests. A second treatment is not necessary.
“With the SmartBox, the product never touches the person and they never breath it,” Ramirez adds. “These are high-active ingredients and growers can treat more acres before they need to refill.”
Amvac is offering special SmartBox deals to growers who sign on to use the insecticide products for three years.