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Cotton Growers Consider Insect Risk Management
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most cotton growers haven't planted the first seed, but they are already making decisions for managing insects.
Continued poor market prices, a mild winter and location in the state are among the issues growers are considering as they make choices between transgenic cotton that is resistant to budworms and nontransgenic seeds. Timely plantings for an early maturing crop continues to be another part of the insect risk management strategy.
Dr. Blake Layton, Extension cotton entomologist at Mississippi State University, said as boll weevil eradication efforts progress across the state, some regions will face higher risks of tobacco budworm and beet armyworm outbreaks.
"The potential of flaring secondary pests is greater in the second and third years of the boll weevil eradication program. The hill section of the state is essentially through the most volatile year, but it is not time for growers to let their guard down," Layton said. "This will be the highest risk year for the South Delta, but much less critical for the North Delta, where eradication efforts won't begin until the first week of August."
Layton said areas involved in the eradication program tend to experience fewer plantbugs, cotton's No. 3 pests, behind boll weevils and budworms. However, those areas have a greater tendency toward aphids and whiteflies, in addition to budworms and armyworms.
"Cotton growers have many more weapons in their arsenals for controlling pests than they did years ago. In addition to transgenic cotton, Tracer has been available in recent years to control budworms on nontransgenic varieties and some other products may be available under (provisional status) Section 18," Layton said.
Furidan is one of the products for treating aphids that growers have been able to use in recent years under Section 18. Additional labeled products are also effective in aphid control.
Layton said he anticipates reduced malathion sprays in the hill section cotton, known as Regions III and IV, because eradication efforts have been ongoing since the fall of 1997. Layton said applications will be triggered by boll weevil trap captures.
The South Delta, known as Region II, will also receive malathion treatments based on trap captures, but Layton expects greater boll weevil numbers in that region because eradication efforts only started there last fall.
Dr. Mike Williams, Extension entomologist at MSU, said growers in Regions III and IV had significant insect control costs last year, largely due to the eradication program.
"But when the eradication effort is completed, cotton growers in the hills will spend about half of their former insect control costs," Williams said.
In 1998, Delta growers who were not involved in the eradication program spent $17.60 per acre to control boll weevils and lost $16.97 per acre in yields, for a total lost of $34.57 per acre. Control costs in the eradication program in the hills were about $22 per acre, with no yield losses to weevils.
Williams said the combined losses and costs of controlling budworms and boll worms in the non-eradication area was about $73 per acre and about $75 in the eradication zone.
The farming economy is going to make farmers weigh future insect control choices very carefully.
"We need to help farmers find a happy medium between the desire to spray at the first sign of pests to protect their yields and the opposite reaction of delaying because they don't think they can afford to spray with the market prices so low," Williams said. "We are trying to help growers recognize the economic thresholds for making their decisions."