Larry Antilla, staff director of the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council (ACRPC), told the annual meeting of Arizona Cotton Growers Association (ACGA) that discussions will be held with the Environmental Protection Agency this spring he hopes will lead to full registration of AF36, which has proven in tests to dramatically reduce aflatoxin to below the 20 ppm level needed to sell untreated cottonseed commercially for livestock feed.

Reducing aflatoxin can increase seed value $20 to $30 per ton for producers.

Since 1999, ACRPC has been evaluating in-field use of AF36 under the direction of Peter Cotty, plant pathologist with USDA-ARS in New Orleans to reduce the aflatoxin producing potential of fungi in the soil.

More than 46,000 acres has been treated in Arizona since the research began effort began with dramatic results. According to Antilla, "we have treated farms which have never delivered clean seed that are now delivering seed below 20 ppb from 86 percent of field treated with AF 36."

Growers interested

It is a process that has captured the interest of farmers in other areas and other crops, specifically corn and almonds, pistachios and figs. Cotty is working with the South Texas Cotton and Corn Growers Association in setting up a program there similar to the one in Arizona. ACRPC will supply enough AF36 for a 2,000-acre program there. He is also working with California tree nut and fig producers.

Antilla said ACRPC is gearing up to produce enough AF36 to treat up to 100,000 acres of Arizona cotton in 2003, which is when he expects EPA to grant at least a conditional use registration.

"We are to meet with EPA in April or early May. We have completed all but one replicated rat study in the avian, mammalian and bee toxicity tests EPA requested," he said.

Antilla said the project lost momentum after 1999 amid the maze of EPA registration requirements. "But the momentum has picked up as we get close to registration and move toward full production of AF 36. We will be meeting with gin boards this summer to start an educational program toward full implementation of the program in 2003," said Antilla.

"One of the keys in achieving reduced aflatoxin levels will be the segregation of cottonseed from AF36 treated and non-treated fields at the gin," he said. "That is one reason why education is so important."

Antilla said dairies have heard of the advancement cotton producers are making at reducing aflatoxin in cottonseed and. "I’ve had calls from Utah and New Mexico from dairymen wanting to use cottonseed from Arizona," said Antilla.

"We are making progress once again and are optimistic this program will soon come to full implementation," he said.

New state cotton

C.L. "Bill" Scott, Stanfield, Ariz., cotton producer and head of the ACGA’s seed breeding development committee also had good news for his fellow growers. It’s called AG 3601 and it is a cotton variety owned by the state’s cotton producers.

Enough seed is available to plant 3,500 acres this season "from Safford to the Colorado River," said Scott. Breeder Ron Thorpe developed the seed.

Arizona yields have been flat over the past 20 years, said Scott, and quality has deteriorated with commercial varieties, said Scott. "We are desperate to turn that around," said Scott in explaining why producers hired their own cotton breeders in search of better-adapted varieties for Arizona.

Their efforts are being augments by a $29,500 grant from Cotton Incorporated, which is developing a cotton-breeding program in response to similar grower concerns across the Cotton Belt.

Arizona is the first state to develop its own grower-owned varieties.

Arizona cotton growers have suffered more than their share of woes over the past two decades and an invasion of silverleaf whitefly in the early 1990s drove Arizona cotton prices well below New York Futures levels because of the stickiness secreted by the whitefly on the cotton lint.

That negative basis remains, although producers have successfully controlled the whitefly with pest management strategies and the use of insect growth regulator pesticides.

University of Arizona entomologist Pete Ellsworth said the IGRs reduced whitefly sprays from an average of four per season to 1.18, representing a savings of $70 million in whitefly control costs.

Ellsworth and others are promoting a continuation of that control effort by encouraging cross commodity management of whitefly populations. The UA sponsored a series of four educational meeting across the state this spring detailing how producers can maintain control of the pest not only benefiting cotton, but melons and vegetables as well.