Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Serendipity: TOPGUARD Fungicide approved for Cotton Root Rot

I just love the word Serendipity.  Basically it means that something good happens that was unexpected.  Who wouldn't love to be in the middle of a serendipitous situation?  That's just where the Texas cotton farmer that I kissed has found himself this planting season with the arrival of TOPGUARD.  This is a fungicide that has been used on soybeans and apples for years.  A while back, there was a certain soybean fungus about to hit the U.S.  In preparation, a lot of TOPGUARD was produced.  The soybean fungus never made it across the Gulf of Mexico, so the TOPGUARD folks started looking for something to do with their product. 
Cotton Root Rot in a field near us
Enter the cotton farmers and their 100 year fight with Cotton root rot.  Since the first cotton was planted in the southern United States, a strange phenomenon happens...sometimes...in different places...under different circumstances...in different fields...to different varieties...(you get the picture) and areas of a field would die.  From a single stalk to acres and acres, cotton plants would just die. 
Notice how some plants are not affected among all the dead plants
But this is not a problem that occurs on a scale large enough to attract any serious research.  It is isolated to just a few areas and within those areas, isolated to groups of farms.   Being a small problem in the scope of the agriculture world, those who fight Cotton Root Rot were left on their own, trying to figure out how to combat the unseen enemy killing their cotton.  Dozens of ideas have been used:  planting later in the season, using a certain mix of fertilizer, rotating the fields with other crops, leaving the field out for a year with no crop at all, and even some slick snake oil-cure all products.  Some things worked some of the time, other things worked other times.  But like the fungus itself, nothing worked everywhere, all the time.  And since Cotton Root Rot seldom occurs at exactly the same place in the field from year to year and with no soil test available for the fungus, it has been almost impossible to study.
Doesn't take a biology degree to see the damage here!

So what the heck is Cotton Root Rot? According to an article in the Southwest Farm Press, Cotton Root Rot is caused by the pathogen, Phymatotrichopsis omnivora. Mary Olsen, a plant pathology specialist, wrote, "Cotton (Texas) Root Rot often causes a rapid wilt and death of the host in the late spring, summer and early fall when temperatures are warm. Dead and dying leaves remain attached to the plant. However, infected plants also may decline more slowly, especially at cooler temperatures and when plants are well cared for. The roots of dying or declining plants are rotted." 
Root "Rott-ed" cotton
Now the serendipity.  An enterprising person at the company who makes TOPGUARD happened to see an article about the plight of the Texas cotton farmers fighting Cotton Root Rot.  Light bulb!  Let's see if all this product sitting here might find a home, so tests started just a few miles from our farms.  Eureka!!  The darned stuff seems to be working! 
Close up of the fungus
Five years, hundreds of tests, and pages of research later, TOPGUARD has found a home.  What this could mean in terms of production is tremendous if you are one of the cotton farmers, like the one I kissed, who has been standing on the turn row looking at fields of dead cotton for decades.  But it is not without it's hurdles.  Cotton planting in our area had been simplified, down to filling the boxes with seed and GO!  Long gone were the huge, bulky water tanks mounted on tractors and the maze of tubes and nozzles forming spray rigs on planters when pre-emergent herbicides were the standard in weed control.  But now, those dusty old tanks are being dug out of the old chicken house and being remounted on brackets that have welders blazing in shops until all hours of the night.  They will hold the water and TOPGUARD solution that will be pumped through the maze of tubes and nozzles which are also back, ready to apply the long awaited fungal cure.  
Daniel building the brackets for the water tanks that will hold the TOPGUARD solution.
Last but certainly not least, the cost is the biggest hurdle of all.  Full rate applications are running up to $50 per acre.  Unheard of for anything on dryland cotton fields.  
Our first cotton planted with TOPGUARD
So with all this hassle, cost and no large scale proof, why try it?  Because Cotton Root Rot has been such a problem for the farmers who have fought this pathogen for a hundred years, that no hurdle seems to high to jump for a field of LIVE cotton plants!
Serendipity has found it's way out here, next to the Chihuahuan Desert, in the form of little white jugs, to the Texas cotton farmer that I kissed, by way of a missing soybean fungus.  I just love that word.
See out other posts about TOPGUARD: If Only and No Fungus Among Us

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