It is certainly an understatement to say that Western cotton growers have seen a reduction in the cost of controlling insect pressure in the last 20 years.
Recent indicators show that not only are the number of applications of pest control product down, but producers have made a major commitment to reduce crop protection applications in their operations.
That trend in non-traditional applications began in the early 1960s when California began its Pink Bollworm Integrated Pest Control program. The program was established to prevent infestation of the pink bollworm in the San Joaquin Valley.
The program still uses sterile moths and occasionally pheromones to disrupt the breeding cycle of the pink bollworm. Cultural controls in the form of plowdown regulations have been part of the process from early in the program history.
The California program was a model for the pink bollworm eradication effort in southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, beginning in 2002.
Costly Whitefly Pest
However, Arizona’s first major experience with non-traditional pest control options came in the early 1990s when a whitefly infestation almost shut down the Arizona industry.
Increased whitefly resistance to organophosphates and pyrethroids was costing some producers up to $200 to $300 an acre as early as 1992. Producers were making eight to 12 applications and, as time increased, those applications were having less and less effect on the insects.
Two major insect growth regulators, pyriproxyfen (Knack) and buprofezin (Applaud), were introduced in 1996 and made a major impact on the cost and control of Arizona’s whitefly infestation. With the help of the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council, which manages cotton pest control issues within the state, the number of applications of the traditional insecticides to control the insect was cut by three quarters in less than five years.
Arizona is accustomed to the effective use of controls to keep pests in check, as evidenced in its successful effort to eradicate the boll weevil in the late 1980s. The eradication effort was a collaborative program that included portions of California and New Mexico and effectively used conventional broad-spectrum insecticides.
While California’s pink bollworm program was effective in keeping its insects under control, the insect was arguably Arizona’s major pest and, occasionally, traditional treatments were less than effective.
With the introduction of transgenic cotton with the Bt gene, the National Cotton Council’s Pink Bollworm Action Committee introduced a plan to eradicate the pest from the Far West cotton crop.
Reduction In Pink Bollworms
With cooperation from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, a three-phase program was introduced. The result has been a successful reduction in pink bollworm numbers in every state involved in the program, including several cotton-producing Mexican states bordering California, Arizona and New Mexico.
According to Joe Friesen, program director of the South Central New Mexico Pink Bollworm Control Committee, only one moth has been captured during the past four years in the Mesilla Valley, pointing to an effective use of sterile moths and phero-mones by the program.
The success in Arizona is similar. Leighton Liesner, of the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council, says there has been a 99.9 percent reduction in pink bollworm captures since the program began.
Dr. Peter Ellsworth of the Univer-sity of Arizona reports that since the introduction of non-traditional pest control methods, Arizona has seen a 1.7 million-pound reduction in application material and saved $220 million. The state is also seeing the lowest usage and application costs in 33 years.
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. He resides in Maricopa, Ariz.