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Knock Out Nematodes

July 28, 2012
By: Sara Brown, Farm Journal Livestock and Production Editor
Knock Out Nematodes
More than a year after the halt of Temik insecticide production, there has been more pressure for seed companies to develop cotton products to suppress nematodes.  

Seed companies fortify cotton’s nematode barrier

You know they are there. You can’t see the nematodes in the soil, but the yield monitor pinpoints their warpath. Early seedling damage from the microscopic wormlike insects injured the roots and they never fully recovered.

More than a year after the halt of Temik insecticide production, there has been more pressure for seed companies to develop cotton products to suppress nematodes.

"You never get rid of nematode populations; once you have them, you always will," says Gary Lawrence, Mississippi State University nematologist.

"Several years ago, we surveyed Mississippi for the presence of nematodes and found reniform nematodes were infesting 32% of the state and root knot nematodes were infesting about 12.5% of the state," he adds.

"In my research, using small acreage control plots, I would try to determine the maximum yield loss from nematodes. In these studies, I would get 19% to 27% yield losses," Lawrence says. "I was looking at the worst-case scenario to see if these nematode control products would actually benefit the farmer and increase yields."

Mississippi isn’t alone. The National Cotton Council (NCC) tracks yield losses from nematodes, as well as areas of infestation. In 2011, cotton growers lost 3.8% of yield due to nematodes, which accounts for 40% of the total loss from all diseases and nematodes in the Cotton Belt, says Don Blasingame, NCC’s coordinator for the Beltwide Nematode Survey and Education Program.

States that report the most loss from nematodes include Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.

Nematodes have always been an issue, says Kirby Lewis, a Shallowater, Texas, cotton grower. "It’s just that now we’ve become more aware of the problem. Input costs are so high now—anything that affects yield is taken note of.

"We were used to having a bale to an acre yield. Now if you don’t do at least two or two-and-a-half to an acre, it’s devastating," he adds.

In the genetics. Breeders know that there is a lot at stake. "I want growers to focus on maximizing yield potential and not have to worry about having nematodes. They have enough other concerns with prices and weather," says Roy Cantrell, Monsanto lead for cotton breeding.

"The breeding and germplasm within Deltapine focuses on developing highly resistant germplasm for the Delta, southeast U.S. and Texas. For existing products that are on the market, we have Deltapine 174 RF, which offers moderate resistance to root knot nematodes," he adds.

"However, what we are doing now is different. We are developing the next generation of genetic resistance to nematodes by breeding," he says.

Using DNA markers, molecular breeding and the genetics of resistance, the new products from Deltapine will be quite distinct from the varieties available now. These products are currently in the pipeline and will be released mid-decade, Cantrell says.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Seed Guide 2012

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