See big picture in cotton pest battle

The last six months produced a great amount of moisture in Texas cotton country. That holds potential for the 2010 cotton crop to have a strong start. But with the prolific growth of weeds serving as perfect hosts for bugs, it may also be a challenging season.

Stamford, Texas, cotton grower Mark Mueller says he’s not worried about boll weevils because of the successful Boll Weevil Eradication Program on the Rolling Plains. His stacked-gene cotton varieties, which include the Bollgard II trait, take care of potential worm problems. But he keeps an eye out for fleahoppers as a top insect threat to cotton.

“We usually have to spray for fleahoppers twice per season,” Mueller says. He says if a grower doesn’t keep a close watch for fleahoppers early in the growing season, the pests can steal the bottom crop.

Key Points

• Months of ample moisture may pave way for greater insect pressure this season.

• It’s important to watch for early-season insects in cotton before they rob yield.

• Integrated Pest Management remains the most comprehensive pest control.

Chris Sansone, Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist, San Angelo, says a lot of host plants this year could mean thrips will be the first pest to damage cotton. He says the threshold for thrip control is one thrip per leaf per plant. Temik does a good job of control at rates from 3.5 to 5 pounds per acre.

Sansone also hears about fleahoppers some seasons, although most years the pest is not a big problem. But with all the winter moisture bringing on potential hosts in weeds this year, it would be a good idea to watch for fleahoppers.

“The first and second weeks of squaring you are likely to see fleahoppers move into cotton,” he notes, adding fleahoppers can cost a grower 100 pounds of lint per acre if not controlled before their first week of feeding.

Integrated Pest Management

Whatever you deal with in your cotton patch, Texas AgriLife Extension Service recommends using Integrated Pest Management. It notes tactics or control methods used in IPM include a combination of the following:

• Cultural control — crop rotation, using locally adapted or pest-resistant and tolerant cotton varieties; sanitation; planting manipulation; and harvest dates to avoid pests

• Biological control — protecting, enhancing or even importing natural enemies of cotton pests

• Mechanical control — cultivation, trapping, pest exclusion

• Chemical control — insect growth regulators, pheromones, biological and chemical pesticides

There also is a six-step process to decision-making when making use of IPM on your farming operation.

1. Identify the problem or pest.

2. Determine the severity of the problem (scouting, traps, past history).

3. Assess the management options (do nothing, or use cultural, biological or chemical control).

4. Select and apply one or more options.

5. Measure the success of options employed.

6. Record your results.

You may have something bugging your cotton, but you also may have beneficial insects present that will parasitize certain cotton pests.

The amount of damage you can expect, and how soon, are other big factors.

Learning to scout fields and knowing thresholds for action against insect invaders is crucial. If you can’t do it, getting help from an unbiased source who understands cotton production and insects could be well worth it.

If there’s a take-home message for 2010, it’s the importance of controlling volunteer cotton that has so much moisture. Just a few volunteer cotton plants can host multitudes of boll weevils.

This article published in the May, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.