June 24, 2000
In the month following the decision of the Government of India to give authority to Monsanto to begin field tests of transgenic cotton on the sub-continent it is worth looking at the previous experience of this type of crop in other parts of the world:
1. CCN - 00 - 3a March 2000 The 1999 Cotton Crop [Extract]
Keith L. Edmisten, Cotton Extension Specialist,
"The 1999 cotton crop in North Carolina has been harvested, ginned and classes with 801,492 bales having been classed....
The staple of the crop was lower than any other year in the 90's other than 1998. This is a alarming trend. This may be due to the tremendous change to Roundup Ready varieties that has occurred in the past two years. Staple (fiber length) is determined in the early half of boll development. Stress during this period probably contributed to low staple. While we may be able to lay some of the blame on weather, growers certainly need to evaluate the quality performance of varieties this year."
2. CCN-98-8A, Possible Problems with Roundup Ready Cotton,
"Most folks have heard of the fruit abortion problems with Roundup Ready Cotton found in Mississippi last year. Unfortunately we have found some fields this year that seem to have similar retention problems. I will try to describe the symptoms we have found in several fields this year.... the problem does not appear to be associated with stress....
Now I realize that it is natural that some folks will want to blame everything under the sun on Roundup Ready. There has been a lot of fruit shed due to dry weather this year. The difference is that natural shed due to stress does not occur on the bottom fruiting branches. Even in extremely dry conditions we will normally set 3 or 4 bolls on the first positions of the lower fruiting branches and then abort the fruit above those branches. The problem fields I have looked at have almost no fruit on the 1st and 2nd positions of the lower fruiting branches. In fact the only fruit some of these fields have are squares, a few misshaped bolls, and small bolls that may still abort....
This is another example of what can happen when varieties are 'hurried' to the market and growers put too many eggs in one basket by adopting varieties too quickly and on too large a scale. There is nothing that can be done to help this cotton that I know of."
3. CCN-98-10A Selecting Cotton Varieties Considering Roundup Ready Problems
"We have seen problems or heard of problems in almost every Roundup Ready variety....I know that growers don't want to hear the next point but I think it is important. There is only one way I can think of to know if you are paying a penalty for growing Roundup Ready cotton. That is to grow some traditional varieties. A way to know if roundup is causing abnormal fruit abortion is to grow some Roundup Ready cotton in a traditional herbicide program with no Roundup applications.
For growers who feel they cannot do without Roundup Ready cotton and want to reduce the risk of problems associated with Roundup Ready cotton in some fields:-
Change to a modified Roundup system that utilizes only one application of Roundup as early as feasible. In this system you will be more likely to need pre or pre-plant incorporated herbicides. You will need to be timely with Roundup applications and to utilize traditional herbicides for all post-direct applications."
[PHOTOGRAPHS of deformed fruit on RR cotton plants from the 1998 season available from this site: http://www.cropsci.ncsu.edu/ccn/1998/ccn-98-8a.htm
4. POSSIBLE PROBLEMS WITH ROUNDUP READY COTTON
"There have been several complaints associated with boll shed in Roundup Ready cotton...This was, and is, a good year to evaluate varieties and their ability to deal with stress. I think a lot of our problem is that there are several new varieties out there, primarily transgenic, that have not been tested over enough environments to give any indication of how consistently they will perform."
More PHOTOS from 1998 and commentary from Mississippi State University Extension Service: http://ext.msstate.edu/anr/plantsoil/cotton/csrr.html
New Scientist on related problems in 1997 -
5. "Concerns with Roundup Ready Cotton": -
"....Unfortunately the exact cause of fruit abortion and the conditions that cause it are not understood. Because problems occurred for the past two seasons in other states and North Carolina in 1998, it is reasonable to think some problems may occur in 1999. Hence, growers may want to consider some steps listed below to reduce their risks.
1. Some growers may decide to convert back to traditional varieties or to BXN cotton....growers can reduce their risk by not planting their entire acreage to a Roundup Ready variety. Pollination problems to some extent were observed in almost every Roundup Ready variety, including stacked [ie multiple trait - e.g RR plus Bt] varieties. There is no variety that can currently be guaranteed to not have a potential problem.....
2. Follow the directions for timing of over-the-top Roundup applications carefully. Do not apply Roundup overtop of cotton beyond the four-leaf stage.
3. Minimize the number of Roundup applications..........consider using a conventional directed herbicide on larger cotton rather than Roundup. With the exception of bermudagrass and annual grasses taller than about 1.5 to 2 inches, a standard directed herbicide will work as well as Roundup. Additionally, most of the commonly used standard directed herbicides will provide residual weed control.
Use of soil-applied herbicides can reduce the number of Roundup applications needed. In the abscence of soil-applied herbicides, two over-the-top applications of Roundup prior to the fifth leaf stage are usually necessary.....
4. Severe cavitation has been observed mostly in DPL 560RR, DPL 90RR, and DPL 5690RR, DPL 90RR, and DPL 5415RR. Reducing the number of Roundup applications as mentioned above likely will not prevent cavitation. Growers may want to limit the number of acres planted to these varieties."
6. "Pockets of Resistance", Andy Coghlin, New Scientist, April 15, 2000 [EXTRACT]
"FIELDS where genetically modified cotton [herbicide resistant] plants spring up as weeds in other crops could provide refuge for the cotton boll weevil, warn entomologists in South Carolina. That could mean the return of this major pest to parts of the American cotton belt from which it has been eradicated." New Scientist: http://www.biotech-info.net/pockets.html
Also Crop Choice: http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?RecID=87
7. Agronomists recommend increasing sprays on Bt cotton across the south eastern states of the US to tackle stink-bug infestations in 2000: "Stink bugs emerging as major pest in Southeast cotton" http://www.farmsource.com/News_Trends/newsarticles.asp?ID=16099
Others realised this type of problem at least three years ago:
"As many cotton growers are still gaining experience with Bt cotton, one thing seems clear from past experience - traditional insecticide treatments should not be overlooked, whether planting transgenic varieties or not. Some research tests have shown that Bt cotton nets the highest yields when oversprayed with a pyrethroid.....Plant bugs, fall armyworms, boll weevils and stink bugs were an early to late-season problem in Bt cotton in 1996 that was not treated on a regular basis. Although threshold levels were not reached for most of these insects, the additive effect of having small amounts of damage from each of them disrupted the fruiting pattern and therefore reduced yields at several test plot locations.....The combined results from several locations suggest over-spraying with a pyrethroid on a seven to ten-day schedule based on egg and/or small worm thresholds can be very beneficial. The best time to begin sprays on Bt cotton appears to be at first bloom, but if plant bug pressures are severe, other product sprays in late May or early June may be needed".
Crop and Soil Environmental News, Virginia Tec Univeresity, July 1997 http://www.ext.vt.edu/news/periodicals/cses/1997-07/1997-07-03.html
8. Stink Bug Damage to Bollgard and Conventional Cotton - slide show at: http://ipmwww.ncsu.edu/cotton/updates/slideshow/stinkbug/index.htm
9. University of Missouri (MU) Ag Crop Management Conference on the problems of GM crops (3 December 1999):
"We're starting to see the cotton bollworm have increased tolerance to Bt cotton. This could be a big problem for us." (MU Extension entomologist Michael Boyd)
10. Crop and Soil Environmental News, Virginia Tec University, March 1998 http://www.ext.vt.edu/news/periodicals/cses/1998-03/1998-03-05.html
"....the current Bt cotton has less resistance to other pests such as cotton bollworm and European corn borer, and thus the authors predict a boom cycle of only 3-4 years for this variety. Again Tabashnik puts it elegantly -- "Nothing will be gained and much can be lost if we pretend to know more about resistance management than we really do".
50% refuges now required for Bt corn crops in southern US cotton growing states to try and delay on-set of Bt resistance: http://www.ncga.com/02profits/insectMgmtPlan/fig1a.htm - see map.
11. Low-Yielding Bt cotton in Arkansas
According to the April 1998 Cotton Grower, Bt-cotton growers in Arkansas had less than a banner year last season. A University of Arkansas study of several Bt and non-Bt cotton fields showed that on average Bt cotton yielded fewer pounds and lower income per acre. One farm showed a remarkable difference in yield--Bt cotton produced 168 fewer pounds per acre than the non-Bt variety. Bt cotton, on the farms studied, yielded an average of 24 fewer pounds per acre. Also, the new varieties required more growth regulator to synchronize plant development and had to be picked twice at harvest. Non-Bt cotton is typically picked only once.
Union of Concerned Scientists Summer 1998 ===========================================================
12. Complex crop management plan to delay insect resistance to Monsanto's Bt 'Ingard' Cotton in Australia
See full details of plan at: http://www.mv.pi.csiro.au/publicat/pest/ingres97.htm
1999-2000 version available in pdf format: http://www.mv.pi.csiro.au/Assets/PDFFiles/IMPInga.pdf
Following 'mixed performance' Monsanto withdrew its 'value guarantee' to Australian farmers for its Bt Ingard Cotton in 1997 - http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/ingard.htm
Although subject to increasing pest pressure, reductions in pesticide use on Ingard varieties compared to conventional cotton in Australia have been gradually faltering. Average use of insecticide has been:
52% less in 1996-97 (season of Ingard introduction) 44% less in 1997-98, and 38% less in 1998-99
(Source: The Performance of Ingard Cotton in Australia during the 1998-99 Season, Cotton Research and Development Corporation).
Despite its enthusiasm for the technology 'Innovate Australia' (representing Australia's food, fibre and natural resources research and development corporations) reports on Ingard that: "Economic benefits for growers from the new technology have been variable but generally only small when compared to conventional cotton". Savings in pesticide, which seem to be getting less and less, are often swallowed up by the extra cost of the seed.
13. [Bt Bollgard cotton not always the best insect control solution for farmers]
2000 North Carolina Cotton Production Guide Placed on the Web by the Center for IPM, NC State University http://ipmwww.ncsu.edu/Production_Guides/Cotton/chptr11.html
MANAGING INSECTS ON COTTON
Transgenic Bt Cotton
".....Bt [Bollgard] varieties will not control non-caterpillar pests such as boll weevils, thrips, cotton aphids, plant bugs, and stink bugs. Also, different caterpillar pests are not controlled to the same degree. For example, field tests have shown that tobacco budworms attempting to feed on varieties with the Bollgard gene essentially will die (zero survival), while bollworms will be able to damage squares and bolls (generally at a low rate), and fall and beet armyworms can easily become established.....
The effectiveness of the Bollgard gene against North Carolina's major cotton pests is influenced by a number of factors, including the pest in question, the level of supplemental beneficial insect "help," and the phenology or maturity of the cotton crop. For example, our sometimes-treated June tobacco budworm generation will likely be eliminated as an economic pest, at least until budworm resistance to Bt cotton occurs..... Nevertheless, bollworm damage, and to a lesser degree, damage from other pests, means that Bollgard cotton often requires supplemental insecticide protection.....
Information collected in North Carolina to date indicates that stink bug damage in typical grower-managed Bollgard cotton fields will likely be up to 10 times greater than the levels found in grower-managed conventional fields. Likewise, if plant bugs become more widespread and abundant, this pest may persist further into the growing season in the less-treated Bollgard cotton. ....
The economic advantage of one insect management system over the other in North Carolina varies by area and circumstance.... In general, economics would favor planting conventional cotton in areas that typically require one or two late-season applications for bollworms. Bollgard cotton would more likely pay off in situations in which producers now treat four or five times. ....With insect management costs often about equal for the two technologies, producers should make varietal performance and availability the key issues in the decision whether to plant Bollgard or conventional cotton."
[Footnote: Financial forecast from NSCU for 2000 is that Bollgard will be slightly less profitable for farmers than cotton grown under a typical conventional system in North Carolina: www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/btcottonnoprofit.htm NLP Wessex]
14. DO GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED (GE) CROPS REDUCE PESTICIDES?
THE EMERGING EVIDENCE SAYS "NOT LIKELY."
"....Compared to Bt corn, Bt cotton initially appears to offer more promise of pesticide reduction. The USDA concluded that in two of three studied regions, the adoption of Bt cotton reduced the use of some insecticides normally used on the pests targeted by Bt. For example, there was a significant decrease in aldicarb, but not organophosphate and pyrethroid.
However, in one of the three regions, total treatments for all cotton pests were actually 53 per cent higher for adopters of Bt cotton than non-adopters. In the other two regions when looking at all insecticides used, not just those associated with Bt targeted pests there were no reductions. This raises questions about whether the technology actually decreases overall insecticide use. Another confounding factor in assessing the value of Bt cotton for pesticide reduction is that growers with the more significant numbers of pests are less likely to adopt the technology. As with Bt corn, for many growers Bt cotton is not a substitute for insecticides.
The cotton resistance management strategy is also criticized.The expression of Bt in cotton varieties is not high enough to kill most of the cotton bollworm, allowing 10-40 per cent of the insects to survive. This requires a huge refuge to create a large enough susceptible population for mating with survivors. Few, if any, growers have created such extensive refugia. In contrast to ECB, evidence to date suggests that in another cotton pest, pink bollworm, resistance is recessive. However, one study reported that resistant insects developed more slowly than their susceptible counterparts and may therefore be out of phase for random mating and dilution of resistance in the field. If so, the entire basis for the refuge strategy is rendered less effective....
Overall, the pesticide reduction benefits have been overstated, the ecological risks under researched and reported, and the economic costs and benefits miscalculated.The technology has been misrepresented in ways that suggest genetic improvement can take the place of management and skill in solving pest problems. This may explain, in part, why farmers have so readily adopted the technology to the degree they have.
In the context of strategies that reduce use of, reliance on, and risks from pesticides which WWF is pursuing, GE food crops are not an appropriate technology. These crops should not be considered part of Integrated Pest Management programs. In fact, data suggest this technology holds back the transition to IPM. Some analysts predict that GE crops will require even more pesticides than conventional crops because the insertion of transgenes may weaken the plant's metabolism, rendering it less competitive with pests".
15. An alternative approach to sustainable cotton production in Australia? [Apart from rotating your crops, of course - there are some fields in the US that have not been out of cotton production since before the American civil war; no wonder they've got pest problems; and Bill Clinton is trying to tell the rest of the world how to farm !!]
8 October 1999 Soil Microbes Have Great Potential to Improve Cotton Productivity
"A scientific spotlight on soil microbes revealed their extraordinary potential to improve cotton productivity at an Australian Cotton Cooperative Research Centre (Cotton CRC) workshop in Narrabri on September 7. The workshop was organised by the Cotton CRC's Dr Subbu Putcha, a microbiologist from NSW Agriculture....
Cotton CRC Chief Executive Officer, Dr Gary Fitt said, 'This was the first workshop to be held on the contribution of soil micro-organisms to the cotton crop, and it indicated the breadth of involvement of soil organisms in the productivity of cotton growing.'....
The 30 scientists at the workshop, including two international visitors, discussed the scope for using micro-organisms for the biocontrol of diseases and insects, plant growth promotion, crop residue degradation, the breakdown of pesticides and herbicides as well as the ugly side of micro-organisms as disease causing agents in cotton."
More details at: http://www.mv.pi.csiro.au/Publicat/Articles/soilmicr.htm
For more on the role of soil bio-health issues in global sustainable agriculture see: www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/geneticsmyth.htm
16. Lessons from the Green Revolution -
"....There is also growing evidence that Green Revolution-style farming is not ecologically sustainable, even for large farmers. In the 1990s, Green Revolution researchers themselves sounded the alarm about a disturbing trend that had only just come to light. After achieving dramatic increases in the early stages of the technological transformation, yields began falling in a number of Green Revolution areas. In Central Luzon, Philippines, rice yields grew steadily during the 1970s, peaked in the early 1980s, and have been dropping gradually ever since. Long-term experiments conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in both Central Luzon and Laguna Province confirm these results. Similar patterns have now been observed for rice-wheat systems in India and Nepal. The causes of this phenomenon have to do with forms of long-term soil degradation that are still poorly understood by scientists. An Indian farmer told Business Week his story:
Dyal Singh knows that the soil on his 3.3-hectare [8 acre] farm in Punjab is becoming less fertile. So far, it hasn't hurt his harvest of wheat and corn. "There will be a great problem after 5 or 10 years," says the 63-year-old Sikh farmer. Years of using high-yield seeds that require heavy irrigation and chemical fertilizers have taken their toll on much of India's farmland. So far, 6 percent of agricultural land has been rendered useless......
In South India, a 1993 study was carried out to compare "ecological farms" with matched "conventional" or chemical-intensive farms. The study's author found that the ecological farms were just as productive and profitable as the chemical ones. He concluded that if extrapolated nationally, ecological farming would have "no negative impact on food security," and would reduce soil erosion and the depletion of soil fertility while greatly lessening dependence on external inputs. v But Cuba is where alternative agriculture has been put to its greatest test. Changes underway in that island nation since the collapse of trade with the former socialist bloc provide evidence that the alternative approach can work on a large scale. Before 1989, Cuba was a model Green Revolution-style farm economy, based on enormous production units, using vast quantities of imported chemicals and machinery to produce export crops, while over half of the island's food was imported. Although the government's commitment to equity, as well as favorable terms of trade offered by Eastern Europe, meant that Cubans were not undernourished, the underlying vulnerability of this style of farming was exposed when the collapse of the socialist bloc joined the already existing and soon to be tightened U.S. trade embargo.
Cuba was plunged into the worst food crisis in its history, with consumption of calories and protein dropping by perhaps as much as 30 percent. Nevertheless, by 1997, Cubans were eating almost as well as they did before 1989, yet comparatively little food and agrochemicals were being imported. What happened?
Faced with the impossibility of importing either food or agrochemical inputs, Cuba turned inward to create a more self-reliant agriculture based on higher crop prices to farmers, agroecological technology, smaller production units, and urban agriculture. The combination of a trade embargo, food shortages, and the opening of farmers' markets meant that farmers began to receive much better prices for their products. Given this incentive to produce, they did so, even in the absence of Green Revolution-style inputs. They were given a huge boost by the reorientation of government education, research, and extension toward alternative methods, as well as the rediscovery of traditional farming techniques.
As small farmers and cooperatives responded by increasing production while large-scale state farms stagnated and faced plunging yields, the government initiated the newest phase of revolutionary land reform, parceling out the state farms to their former employees as smaller-scale production units. Finally, the government mobilized support for a growing urban agriculture movement-small-scale organic farming on vacant lots-which, together with the other changes, transformed Cuban cities and urban diets in just a few years.
The Cuban experience tells us that we can feed a nation's people with a small-farm model based on agroecological technology, and in so doing we can become more self-reliant in food production. A key lesson is that when farmers receive fairer prices, they produce, with or without Green Revolution seed and chemical inputs. If these expensive and noxious inputs are unnecessary, then we can dispense with them....."
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Last Updated on 7/16/00
By Dan Ellis