The message cotton producers are delivering to the Environmental Protection Agency is clear. Increasing the percentage of required refuge for Bollgard cotton will result in a loss of revenue and efficiency for farmers.
So when it comes down to the bottom line, just what are growers willing to give up in order to maintain use of this technology? The answer, according to five Delta-area farmer-leaders, may be not much more than the 95:5 resistance management refuge ratio that they have already factored into their Bt cotton production systems.
In a June 26 meeting with EPA officials in Stoneville, Miss., Kenneth Hood of Perthshire, Miss., told officials with the federal regulatory agency that increasing the required refuge ratio from 95:5 to 90:10 would double his economic loss on his affected acreage.
“We can live with a 95:5 refuge plan, but the economics become way out of kilter anytime you go to a higher percentage of untreated cotton acreage,” Hood said. “With a 10-percent refuge acreage, I've got to look at producing cotton with a higher cost of production and lower yield potential, which means I'll have the potential to double my loss.”
After first testing out the new technology with a 50:50 Bollgard/conventional cotton mix in 1996, Bruce Brumfield of Inverness, Miss., quickly moved toward a 96:4 ratio and then to the 95:5 refuge ratio in 2001.
“We went 50:50 because it was a new technology and we didn't know much about it, but we ended up going 96:4 because of economic reasons. Our budget just can't stand any less than a 95:5 mix due to high budworm and bollworm pressure on our farm,” he said.
Hood, who has farms using both the 95:5 refuge option and the 80:20 refuge option, said, “I have been keeping cost records on both farms and I'll tell you right now, I won't have another farm with 20-percent refuge on it another year. My costs on the refuge acreage, as of June 26, have already outrun my Bt cotton.”
As for the 95:5 or 90:10 embedded refuge option being proposed, Seymour Johnson of Indianola, Miss., said, “We can't do the embedded at all. It is out of the question. I vote to keep the 95:5 refuge requirement.”
Dan Branton of Leland, Miss., said he doesn't grow any Bollgard cotton on his farm for the same economic reasons. “Economically, I can't justify the cost involved with the technology fee and the ground you have to waste, so to speak. If you want to encourage me to grow Bt, you need to go the other way.”
If the decision is made by EPA to increase the refuge acreage requirements, Brumfield said, “Let's not arbitrarily change the requirement just because it sounds better. Let's do that because we've got a scientific reason to do it.”
“I know we've got to have a refuge and the 95:5 option is my offer. But first, I want to know that the models EPA is using are right and that we are moving in the right direction, added Delta Council President Ben Lamensdorf.
“What I'd really like is for Mississippi State University and the Delta Research and Experiment Station to test these models in the field. I want to hear from them that is what we are up against and this is what we need to do to prevent resistance from developing,” Lamensdorf said.
Hood said that until the computer-generated models are field-verified by land grant universities like Mississippi State University, EPA lacks the credibility necessary to sell farmers on any proposals to increase Bt refuge requirements.
“If you say we are going to lose the technology and we are dead sure of it happening in one year or two years if we don't do this, then we've got to rethink cotton production. But, it doesn't seem to me like the Environmental Protection Agency has that evidence yet,” said Johnson.