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Insect Numbers Grow Faster Than Cotton
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cool, rainy days have delayed cotton growth, but not boll weevils. Cotton's No. 1 enemy is emerging from overwintering and searching for cotton squares.
"Even though boll weevil numbers are high, I'm not as concerned about them as I am about the crop as a whole," said Mike Williams, extension entomologist at Mississippi State University. "The insects don't even want the cotton at this point."
Spring conditions have delayed the cotton's growth by at least two weeks in most areas of the state.
"There is a silver lining around the late cotton crop and high boll weevil numbers," said Dr. Blake Layton, extension cotton entomologist. "Many boll weevils will starve before they have a chance to lay eggs in cotton squares. The large number surviving will be more susceptible to the pinhead square treatments."
Layton said slow cotton growth means the plants will be susceptible to all insects longer.
"We're also seeing higher numbers of stink bugs and tarnish plant bugs," Layton said. "If necessary, growers will be able to treat plant bugs and boll weevils at the same time. These treatments could impact other future populations."
The entomologist said growers walk a fine line of treating yield-damaging pests and hurting beneficial insects.
"At this time, we aren't seeing high numbers of bollworms or tobacco budworms," he said. "But that may not be an indication of what we'll see in July or August."
Most growers battled few insects last year, but clearly remember the tobacco budworm invasion of the state's hill cotton in 1995. Insecticide-resistant budworm numbers flared after growers treated other pests.
"Anytime you have a mild winter like we just experienced, you expect to see more bugs," said Scott Stewart, area entomologist in Raymond.
"Boll weevils seem to be emerging early by the calendar date as well as by the cotton's condition," Stewart said. "We shouldn't have too many emerging late, which is good news for farmers planning pinhead square applications."
Stewart said timing of the pinhead square application is critical. Late treatments allow some weevils to lay eggs, and early treatments miss later-emerging pests.
Layton said successful pinhead square applications could be good news, especially for growers in Mississippi's hill section. The Boll Weevil Eradication Program will begin treating hill fields the first weeks of August.
"Those growers will still need to protect their cotton from yield-damaging numbers of boll weevils and plant bugs until the program takes over, but the fall control efforts will definitely be easier for hill farmers," Layton said.
Growers with Internet access can view weekly results of insect traps across Mississippi's cotton-growing region at http://www.ext.msstate.edu/~msbwmc. The Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. posts the numbers of boll weevils, beet armyworms, budworms, bollworms, loopers and fall armyworms.