A new kind of genetically modified cotton is bringing its game-changing potential to the cotton industry in Australia. Monsanto’s Bollgard 3 variety is currently undergoing trials in Western Australia to see how resistant it is to certain types of insects and other pests in the wet season. These cotton plants were planted in early February, during the region’s wet season, on a farm in the Kimberley Ord Irrigation Scheme. This is not the first time that Bollgard 3 has been planted in Australia as it made its debut in Australian cotton fields in mid-2016; however, comprehensive testing of its resistance to the country’s main pests and weather patterns had not been conducted until this point.
Previous trials have shown that though Bollgard 3 plants grow at a similar rate to Bollgard 2 plants, they have an increased resistance to insects. The Bollgard 3 contains an extra gene (the Bollgard 2 contained only 2) that helps to protect against and control spodoptera, a major wet season pest in northern Australia. Commonly known as cotton leafworms, the larvae of this invasive species feed on cotton leaves and create holes in other parts of cotton plants, including shoots and buds, making them more vulnerable to disease and sometimes compromising the season’s entire yield. Bollgard 3’s three genes each have a different mode of action and kill larvae in a different way, making it more difficult for pests to adapt and become resistant to the technology. Unlike Bollgard 2 plants which had a planting window of six weeks, Bollgard 3 plants have no planting window at all, making them the most versatile and resilient variety currently available in the Australian market.
Should the current trials prove successful, the Bollgard 3 will help Australian farmers overcome challenges associated with planting in the wet season, will increase their overall yield, will benefit Australia’s cotton industry as a whole. The industry produced 2,742,700 bales of cotton in 2015/16, though its most recent high point came in 2011/12 when the industry produced over 5,300,000 bales. Australia is a reliable supplier of good-quality cotton, and especially rain-grown cotton.
The Ord trials are expected to be completed in June of this year, and the results so far are looking promising, and farmers in the Burdekin and Gulf regions of Queensland may be the next to benefit from region-specific Bollgard 3 testing. Additionally, Monsanto reportedly has already developed Bollgard IV and is conceptualizing a potential Bollgard V. These advancements will make Australia’s resilient cotton industry even stronger, increasing profits for farmers and production for the industry as a whole.
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