Sticky cotton prevention requires total industry involvement

The global agricultural industry has its list of challenges. Quality always remains a top priority across the farming sector, including the cotton industry.

In the recent Western Farm Press online article called California, Arizona sticky cotton disrupts Peruvian mills, the post reports on a Peru cotton merchant who allegedly received sticky cotton from California and Arizona in 2013.

When sticky cotton occurs, the stickiness can create problems in the milling process.

As the 2015 cotton planting season gets underway, Farm Press reached out to two western cotton specialists for their expertise on sticky cotton prevention. Sticky cotton occurs mostly from the whitefly insect secreting sugars (honeydew) on cotton in the field, creating stickiness in the lint.

Pete Goodell, University of California IPM advisor, says, “Sticky cotton is the number one threat to our reputation for quality in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The industry takes the issue very seriously. Zero tolerance is our constant goal.”

Western cotton is considered by some as the best quality cotton in the world.

Goodell says some people believe that whiteflies and sugar can only become a serious problem after the bolls open and cotton lint is exposed in the fall mouths. Research indicates otherwise.

Growers should start monitoring fields for whitefly starting in July – two months before boll opening – using proven sampling and assessment tools.

“Pest monitoring is a proven system,” Goodell says. “You need to catch the whitefly when the insect first enters the field. Do not allow the numbers to build up.”

University of Arizona IPM specialist Peter Ellsworth says whiteflies are the major culprit for excess sugars in Arizona cotton in those rare instances when it occurs. He cautions growers that hairy leaf cotton varieties carry a higher risk of drawing whiteflies.

“Growers need to be more vigilant with whitefly control on hairy leaf cultivars (varieties) than smooth leaf cultivars,” Ellsworth says. “Be hyper cautious in this situation. Pursue earlier sampling to track any usually speedy growth trends in whitefly populations.”

Drought and related water restrictions can increase whitefly numbers. Growers should prevent or reduce plant stress whenever possible.

“The whitefly is a stress-loving insect and anything that puts the crop under stress creates an environment where whitefly can thrive.”

Ellsworth encourages IPM use in fields. Studies have proven that natural enemies combined with softer insecticides are vital to whitefly control.

Some growers may ‘save’ what they consider their “best” insecticides for late-season whitefly treatments but Ellsworth suggests otherwise.

“Use these best, most selective and effective insecticides as the first well-timed spray against whitefly instead of later in the season,” Ellsworth recommends.

Both entomologists concur that whitefly field scouting in the field – boots on the ground – should start early and continue through the season. The timeframe should be adjusted for early-season varieties.

Will sticky cotton follow the extinction of the dinosaur? Everyone hopes so but the industry has the tools in hand to help avoid a sticky situation.

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