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Soon,Bt gene to help cotton growers kill weeds

The Bt gene gave cotton farmers freedom from bollworm. Now the weedicide-resistant gene is likely to relieve them of weeds as well.

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Nagpur |
January 14, 2011 1:33:41 am

The Bt gene gave cotton farmers freedom from bollworm. Now the weedicide-resistant gene is likely to relieve them of weeds as well.

Field trials at eight centres across the country — including one at the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) headquarters here — have thrown up heartening results.

The Bollgard II Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) hybrid,the weedicide-resistant new variety of cotton from Mahyco-Monsanto,nullified the weed effect during the trial.

“The results are very good. The weeds have been completely routed,not only helping the cotton to grow better and faster,but also saving the farmer’s expenses on weed control,” says CICR director Keshav Kranthi.

RRF is the next-generation Bt product from Monsanto already in use in countries like the US,Australia and Brazil.

As of now,farmers have to de-weed the fields as use of herbicide affects cotton too.

Many a time,there is labour crunch leading to weeds remaining in the field for days. RRF nullifies this problem too.

“What the RRF gene does is neutralise the herbicide chemical called glyphosate. So,only the weeds die due to the herbicide,leading to a robust growth of cotton,” Kranthi explains.

“When the weeds die,there is no need to remove them,thereby saving the labour expenses. Also,the dead weed forms mulch that resists soil erosion,” he adds.

Mealybugs,one of the major pest species attacking cotton and thriving on weeds,will also be automatically taken care of,the CICR Director adds.

“Many a time,like it happened at many places this year,heavy rains at a later stage result in slush and water-logging in the fields,thereby preventing farmers from taking up de-weeding. That will not be necessary when RRF is used,” he points out.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide found extremely useful worldwide for years now. In fact,it is known as the initial major success episode in the Monsanto genome story.

RRF,however,will pose a problem in inter-cropping. In many parts of the country,pigeon pea is taken as an intercrop with cotton. “Farmers will not be able to do that since the herbicide will kill pigeon pea too. The option is to grow pigeon pea on a separate patch of land,” Kranthi says.

Indian farmers may have to wait for another year before they could have the RRF option. Even after three years of testing — two years in agriculture universities and one year in CICR — RRF may have to go through another year of field trial at CICR fields.

Cottoning on to tech

After Bollgard I,came Bollgard II. Now,RRF is close to being introduced in Indian fields. Monsanto,pioneer in the field of genetically modified seeds,is working on many more future technologies that promise to take care of almost all major problems confronting cotton,like sucking pests and drought-vulnerability and susceptibility to glyphosate-resistant weeds. Some cottonseed products in the pipeline are:

Dicamba and Glufosinate Tolerant (DGT) cotton: Takes care of weeds that resist two weedicides like Palmer pigweed.

Bollgard III: Third generation insect control for effective management of widest range of caterpillar pests.

Drought-resistant cotton: To provide yield stability in drought and water-stressed conditions.

Cotton Lygus Control: Lygus is a family of insect pest organisms that act as damaging agriculture pests. The cottonseed in this generation will be packed with power to resist the lygus pests.

“Work on the (above mentioned) products is going on at fast pace in our labs. We could have all of these,one-by-one,within next seven years,”

Jerry Steiner,Executive Vice President,Monsanto,told The Indian Express during his recent visit to India.

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