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Don't Blame Insects For Cotton Losses
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Insects and weather are usually willing accomplices in their attempt to rob cotton growers of maximum yields, but most pests this year have left the weather to do the bulk of the dirty work.
Blake Layton, cotton entomologist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said insect damage has been sporadic across the state but generally lighter than normal.
"The weather is going to have more of an impact on the crop than insects, which is usually the case but even more so this year," Layton said. "If fields lucked into a timely rain to fill out bolls, then yields will be OK."
Layton said growers reported isolated cases of tobacco budworm problems on non-Bt cotton. Bt-cotton growers sprayed only a few times for bollworms.
"Recent mild winters had us expecting many more problems from insects than we've actually had this year," Layton said. "We did have more thrips, probably due to the mild winter, but we also had less caterpillar pressure than expected."
Some fields had a flurry of aphids in June and July, but a naturally occurring fungal disease is now providing control. Hot, dry conditions may have contributed to an increased problem with spider mites on the west side of the state, but they only will mildly impact yields. Growers had fewer battles with plant bugs, but Layton said boll weevil eradication sprays could have helped in that effort.
"Since eradication began in the state, we've had four consecutive mild winters. That definitely benefits overwintering boll weevil populations," he said. "In spite of the mild winters, numbers have been coming down each year and we seem to be making good progress toward eradication."
Layton said after the pin-head square stage by the end of June, more than 80 percent of the fields in East Mississippi (known as Region IV) were weevil-free. More than 50 percent were
weevil-free in the South Delta and the rest of the hill section (known as Regions II and III). In the North Delta section (Region I), which were the last fields to enter the eradication program, 20 to 50 percent have been weevil-free.
"I don't anticipate losing any Mississippi cotton to the boll weevil for the first time in more than 90 years," Layton said. "Before eradication began, Mississippi growers would have been treating every field."
Layton said he hopes numbers will continue to be low throughout the rest of the growing season.
"Historically, we would treat more as the season progresses," he said. "Trap captures from this point on will tell us how much progress we've made toward eradication. If we are really succeeding, numbers should go down."
Cotton is Mississippi's largest row crop with just over 1.3 million acres planted this year. It ranked third in the state in farm value in 1999 behind poultry and forestry.