What's Bugging Cotton Growers Nowadays?

Weevils and worms may be gone but producers encounter brand-new problems.

Published on: Jan 5, 2010

See no weevil—or extremely few—and worms are history too, but new pests are bugging cotton growers nowadays, say experts and producers at the ongoing 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.


Dr.  Jeff Gore, a researcher at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville, Mississippi, says 20 years ago he would have talked to a Beltwide crowd about boll weevils and tobacco budworms in the South and Southwest, and pink bollworms in the Far West.


"But the boll weevil is not a factor now—except for just a few places in Texas—after the success of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program," Gore notes. "And transgenic Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cottons have controlled the worms."


But new culprits are bugging growers to replace those former cotton enemies. Gore says plant bugs, stink bugs, spider mites, and aphids have stepped up to the plate to plague producers these days.


"Plant bugs are our big problem now," Gore reflects. "Key cotton pests have shifted from worms and weevils to bugs."


He says new products will help. For example, sulfoxaflor from Dow AgroSciences promises to be a real effective tool in controlling plant bugs.


Dr. Rogers Leonard, professor Louisiana State University Ag Center, Winnsboro, says 90% of Louisiana cotton is planted to insect-resistant cottons. First there was single-gene transgenic cotton with Bollgard to fight worms, but stacked gene Bollgard II with an extra protein and Wide Strike cotton now offer good control.


"This means fewer insecticide treatments," he notes.


New pests go beyond insects. Herbicide-resistant weeds are "bugging" growers too. David Hydrick, a Jonesboro, Arkansas, consultant says marestail already is resistant there, and pigweeds are "heading the same direction."


Barry Evans, a Kress, Texas producer, says "wind, water and weeds" all must be managed to produce cotton on the harsh High Plains. Evans says now he uses a variety of residual herbicides in addition to traditional glyphosate to stop weeds. But Roundup Ready Flex cotton has changed the game to really help growers.

Being able to spray cotton over-the-top for weeds with today's transgenic cottons once would have been thought of as science fiction, he marvels. Today's modern herbicides help leave residue to protect the soil and capture rainfall, he notes.