S.C. farmers face dilemma after loss of nematicide

A federal decision on the use of a nematicide will leave South Carolina cotton producers scrambling to find a replacement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week rejected requests from South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas to use Counter 20G, a restricted pesticide labeled for corn crops, to help farmers control nematodes on their cotton crops as well.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), a regulatory agency based in Clemson University, had requested a Section 18 emergency exemption use for Counter 20G under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The EPA had granted a similar exemption last year to allow cotton farmers in South Carolina and Georgia to use the chemical.

“This pesticide had proved to be effective in controlling nematode populations in cotton,” said Steve Cole, director of regulatory services at Clemson. “Because it is against the law to use restricted pesticides in a manner inconsistent with their labeling, we had hoped for an exemption this year to help our cotton producers manage their nematode problems. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers and the South Carolina Farm Bureau joined with Tim Drake, DPR state programs manager, and John Mueller, director of Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center, to try and make this happen.

“But since that request has been denied, it is important that farmers with Counter 20G on hand use it only according to its labeled purposes for other crops, such as corn,” Cole said. “If a grower is found to be using Counter 20G on cotton, it will be a violation of state and federal pesticide regulations.”

Nematodes — tiny worm-like creatures that feed on the roots of many kinds of plants — can cause significant losses in cotton. Nematodes feed on the tap root as it emerges from the seed. This can inhibit water and nutrient uptake and stunt growth. If nematodes are not controlled, yield losses of 10 percent are common and 25 percent are possible.

“South Carolina cotton growers used Counter 20G last year to fill the void in nematode-control products created when they lost Temik 15G ” said Mueller, a plant pathologist whose specialty is cotton and soybean nematology. “They were very pleased with the results and hoped that they could use Counter 20G again to help manage nematodes in their problem fields.

“Without Counter 20G they will have to rely almost solely on seed treatment nematicides. While effective against low levels of nematodes, seed treatments will not control the moderate to high levels of nematodes in more than 50 percent of cotton fields in South Carolina,” he said.

“The new, root-knot nematode resistant varieties will help in fields with root-knot nematode, but many of our fields are also infested with Columbia lance or reniform nematodes. Growers will need to anticipate 10 percent to 20 percent yield losses in many fields and adjust their production budgets and projected profits accordingly. The lack of control this year will just compound the number of fields with severe nematode problems in 2016.”

Cotton is among the most valuable row crops in South Carolina, annually generating more than $150 million on about 300,000 acres in the state.

Courtesy Clemson