Western Arizona: Pink bollworm eradication on hold

Expansion of Arizona pink bollworm (PBW) eradication into Western Arizona is on hold because there are no federal funds to launch the program there after a successful initial year in central and eastern Arizona last year. “We're ready to expand but the federal dollars are not currently available to start the program in La Paz and Mohave counties this year,” said Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council (ACRPC) Director Larry Antilla.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) funds the sterile moth component of the pink bollworm (PBW) eradication program.

According to Antilla, $1.1 million over '06 funding is needed to continue sterile moth in eastern and central Arizona in '07, plus start releases in western Arizona and southern California's Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties in '07.

Without a funded sterile moth component, the ARCPC will not launch eradication efforts in western Arizona in '07.

A congressional concurrent resolution has prohibited spending increases across all federal programs. The Democratically-controlled body could lift the freeze in late February or wait until September.

With cotton planting just a few months away in western Arizona, growers want to know if eradication is a go. A yes or no ACRPC decision could impact growers' decisions on planting Bt or non-Bt cotton.

At press time, ACRPC Chairman Clyde Sharp of Roll, Ariz., and other Arizona producers were attending the National Cotton Council annual meeting seeking ideas to locate extra funding. If funds from USDA-APHIS or another source are shored up soon, the ACRPC could launch eradication efforts in western Arizona in late April to early May starting with sterile moth releases reared at the USDA lab in Phoenix, Ariz.

Antilla is hopeful that southern California would also kickoff eradication activities in Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties located across the Colorado River from Arizona's western counties.

According to Jim Rudig, pink bollworm project program supervisor with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, “California and Arizona should work together to eradicate pink bollworm throughout a contiguous cotton-growing region in Southern California and Arizona. Pink bollworm is a devastating pest that can migrate easily between our two adjacent cotton-growing states.”

Moth release

Cotton growers, state agriculture program managers and staff, and the USDA have worked together for several years to develop the Pink Bollworm Bi-national Area-wide Eradication Program, Rudig noted. The eradication strategy includes ‘moving in phases’ into the various cotton-growing regions infested with the pinkie.

Antilla said the sterile moth release program in California's San Joaquin Valley has prevented pinkie establishment there for 40 years. Eradication efforts in New Mexico and Texas began about six years ago and so far have proven successful.

The Mexican states of Sonora and Baja Norte will start eradication in ‘07.

Regardless of what happens with funding for Arizona's eradication efforts in '07, the ACRPC is scheduled to launch efforts in Yuma County in ‘08.

“Since Yuma County's planting season is from early February through early March, the ACRPC didn't think it was fair to guesstimate starting the program in '07 in Yuma without knowing whether federal funds would be allocated in time,” Antilla said.

Eradication includes three main components — Bt cotton, sterile moth releases, and pheromones with the option of the limited use of insecticides when necessary ACRPC administers Arizona's PBW eradication program under the auspices of the National Cotton Council's pink bollworm action committee. Growers from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico comprise the NCC committee.

Growers fund the pinkie program with a $1.25 per bale assessment. This pays for program management, monitoring, traps, lures, plus the supervision of pheromone and insecticide applications. Federal money pays for the sterile moths.

Fee assessment

For pink bollworm control, growers using Bt cotton pay a $32 technology fee per acre to cover season long control including pheromone, insecticides, and application costs. If growers plant non-Bt cotton, a $32 per acre fee must be paid directly to the ACRPC.

In 2005, Arizona cotton growers approved the pink bollworm eradication referendum with a 79 percent approval. Grower participation is mandatory.

During a meeting with growers in Parker, Ariz. (La Paz County) in late January, Antilla suggested growers maintain current seed plans for the '07 crop year.

“We recommend maximum Bt use because that is the best control for pink bollworm. If we receive the needed federal funds in time, an exemption the ACRPC has been granted will allow individual growers to plant up to 100 percent Bt without structured or traditional refuges,” Antilla said. He referred to planting requirements for Bt seed products Bollgard and Bollgard II from Monsanto and WideStrike from Dow AgroSciences requiring growers planting Bt to provide a non-Bt cotton-planted refuge area under the EPA's section 24c requirement.

Under a special local need registration granted to the ACRPC on Jan. 27, 2007 by the Arizona Department of Agriculture, Arizona growers can legally plant 100 percent Bt without a refuge through Sept. 30, 2009 in those counties in the ACRPC eradication program.

“The EPA doesn't actually approve something - they just don't disapprove it. The ACRPC has had personal conversations with EPA and was told the agency will not disapprove the registration.”

Antilla shared '06 sterile moth release numbers for the southwestern U.S. and Mexico: Arizona - 1,681,725,915; California (San Joaquin Valley) — 275,231,706; New Mexico — 323,660,970; Texas — 1,339,620,221; and Mexico - 213,762,095 - for a total of 3,834,000,907 moths.

“We were concerned about the logistics of getting moths delivered and distributed by air in Arizona. We released seven days a week for the entire season. We never missed a day.”

If '07 eradication includes La Paz and Mohave, one to two million more moths would be released daily over moths released in ‘06.

“The biggest problem will be the logistics of aircraft operations in traveling to the new areas and releasing the moths,” Antilla noted.

Moth releases in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas began on May 1 and ended on Oct. 15 in ‘06. About 22 million moths per day were released daily.

In Arizona in '06, 165,000 cotton acres including 4,626 fields were in the eradication program in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties (central) and Greenlee, Graham, and Cochise counties (eastern). About 154,168 acres were planted in Bt while 6,463 were non-Bt and 5,000 were in Pima. More than 4,500 PBW traps were monitored last season.

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