Cotton pest control challenge on both sides of Colorado

An article in this edition of Western Farm Press draws a comparison between cotton pest control in California and Arizona, noting that for the first time in decades, California producers are treating more often for pests than their Arizona counterparts.

The article has appeared on the magazine's Web site and apparently, some folks have taken exception to the distinction as casting California producers and those who conduct entomological research and scout cotton in a negative light. That is not the intent.

The comparison was made partly to point out the remarkable evolution of cotton pest control technology in Arizona, the same evolution that may be at hand for California.

Name the pest and Arizona cotton growers have battled it. Pink bollworm so out-of-control it created buggy whip cotton — plants 10 feet high and taller because worms had removed all the fruit, and silverleaf whitefly so thick aerial applicators could not complete a load because windshields got too fogged by whitefly clouds.

Arizona producers, University of Arizona entomologists and Cooperative Extension Service agents and specialists, pest control advisers, chemical manufacturers and retailers, seed companies and others in Arizona's cotton industry not only turned back unbelievable onslaughts of pests, but became better producers in the process.

Arizona producers eradicated boll weevil long before anyone else. Bt cotton was first grown commercially in Arizona and the pink bollworm has become a pest of the past. Arizona growers and chemical companies also must be recognized for their unwavering stewardship in using silverleaf whitefly insect growth regulators as a model for resistance management.

The fact that Arizona producers treat for insects maybe only two to three times a season is a remarkable testimony to their tenacity.

California producers are facing similar challenges, particularly from whitefly and aphids during the past three seasons. They have relied on the research and experience from Arizona to meet the whitefly challenge and in 2002 demonstrated the same tenacity as their Arizona counterparts when they produced virtually honeydew-free lint.

Unfortunately, this season has been more challenging than the last with delayed plantings making the cotton more vulnerable to late-season aphids and whiteflies and growers have had to treat more regularly than they want.

Fortunately, California does not have a pink bollworm problem, thanks to a grower-funded biological exclusion program that has kept one of the world's most destructive pests out of the San Joaquin for more than three decades.

However, other worm pests have emerged in recent seasons that cannot be controlled by the current generation of Bt or Bollgard cottons that have become the cornerstone of Arizona's pest management success. Controlling armyworms early in the San Joaquin Valley has upset the balance of pests and predators growers rely on and added to pest control costs. The same saving grace of biotechnology may soon be welcomed by SJV producers in the form of the new generation of Bt cotton, Bollgard II to control armyworms and loopers.

Arizona's cotton industry should be justifiably proud of its accomplishment. That is the point of reporting how few times Arizona producers treat cotton for pests.

California's cotton industry will overcome its challenges as well and look forward to the day competition is closer.

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