GENTECH archive


Re: re cotton, archives 1125

>wytze wrote:

>From what I understood about the suicide among Indian farmers it was caused
>because they started to grow cotton in places that were not fit for cotton.
>Unfortunately this phenomena seems to be not limited to western countries....

Rick replies:
Which only begs the question, where do you think is the right place to grow cotton? It has severe pest problems nearly everywhere that it is grown, and those few places where it does not have problems (such as the High Plains of Texas and the Central Valley of California) are not enough to supply the world's needs (not to mention the needs of the landowners for a profitable crop).

Some of you will have received a message from Devinder Sharma about the cotton story. I see nothing in that message (also discussed below) about growing the cotton in the wrong place.

>Wytze continued:
>... In that case, Bt-cotton is no solution.

Rick asks:
Just what do you think the solution might be? Allow me to add that I doubt that anyone on this server has spent even 1% of the time and money that I have on this problem, not to mention the time of hundreds of colleagues smarter than me. Before any of you give me some more manure about "alternative organic methods" (outside the two regions mentioned above) or selecting the right place to grow the cotton, I'd ask you to actually try it, with your own time and money, before you lecture me. I've paid my dues over 25 years.

>Wytze continued:
> I am not sure that Bt-crops
>eliminate the use of chemical input. From what I understood still other
>pesticides are being applied on these crops.

Rick replies:

Bt cotton will not eliminate all insecticide use on cotton. It can greatly reduce it, and has by 60-90% in the US and Australia.

>Wytze continued:
>The fact that after three years of
>Bt crops no resistance has shown up is not such a great achievement (if it is
>true, because i heard other rumours) If in 27 years this can still be said
>about the Bt crops, their performance would start to approach the performance
>of Bt sprays.

Rick replies:
If Bt cotton lasts even four years, it will outlast the performance of Bt sprays on crucifer (eg., cabbage and broccoli) crops in many subtropical areas of the world, where resistance has evolved in several areas with 4 years of use of sprays (eg., reference cited below). It appears that the only reason that Bt sprays have have lasted as long as they have is that they are used by so few farmers, accounting for less than 1% of the total insecticide use. Now, we could reserve Bt for those elite farmers selling pricey organic food to relatively rich folk like yourselves, or we could use them to help protect the health of farm workers in a much wider range of circumstances.

See: TABASHNIK, B. E., CUSHING, N. L., FINSON, N. & JOHNSON, M. W. (1990) Field development of resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis in diamondback moth (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 83, 1671-1676.

Oh, and the rumours are just that, and like many rumours published on the internet, they are wrong; there is no evidence for resistance in the field to Bt cotton. Further, I have identified tactics targetted to last for 30 years, and have already sent citations for the scientific papers describing this to you, Wytze. These tactics are already being put in place by that bad old multinational industry some of you like to complain about.

Finally, some of you have seen a message from Devinder Sharma. I'd like to comment only on a few points:

Although the bollworm mentioned in his report has been called the American bollworm in India, the species in question (Helicoverpa armigera) has nothing to do with America and is not found there. I have yet to figure out why it is called the American bollworm. The insect is fairly large, with larvae exceeding 3 cm in length.

As Sharma noted, a major issue in India is fake insecticides, and secondary insect pest of cotton, such as Spodoptera and whiteflies, are a major problem in the face of heavy insecticide use. The solution is to encourage natural enemies, which are the first knocked off by the insecticides. However, natural enemies alone are insufficient to reliably produce a profitable cotton crop in Australia or Mississippi (where in each of which I have worked on cotton for several years) and by all accounts I get, not in India either. Bt transgenic cotton has NOT failed in the US (there were only complaints (justified) from a few growers who has been led to believe that it would solve all of their problems in the first year of use of Bt cotton), the simplest evidence for which is that the amount sold continues to increase.

Bt cotton is not the whole answer for India; nothing would be. The only possible downside to Bt cotton is resistance to Bt in the pests. And what would this mean to Indian cotton growers? They don't use Bt sprays now (if they did, and had not already caused resistance, they would have no problems now). The reason they don't use Bt is that it is too expensive for the level of control provided on cotton.

However, even if resistance to Bt cotton occurs as fast as it has to Bt sprays on cabbages, Bt cotton can at least over the short term reduce farm debt (as it has in the US, with financial benefits to grower being twice those to Monsanto, according to an Auburn University study) and give landowners some breathing room to consider other solutions. It can also help to reduce farm worker and farm family exposure to pesticides; even a five year reduction would help. Further, the reduction in pesticide use would give natural enemies a chance to build up again, and ease the transition toward less use of chemical controls.

IPM has been a big success throughout much of the world, including that on rice in Indonesia, which was largely organised by one of my friends from student days, Peter Kenmore. However, even with IPM programs, cotton continues to require heavier pesticide use than rice to be profitable.

Bt cotton could be part of a viable IPM solution, with less insecticide use, and soon. Or we can stand on philosophical principles, write inspired articles to offer incomplete solutions that have been suggested and gone unheeded for 10-20 years, and continue to watch people die.

I am willing to expose myself to the criticisms of Wytze and Sharma, and vote for saving lives over principles.