Preparedness key to insect battle

Like in every other growing season, preparedness is crucial this year for controlling cotton insects in the Southeast, especially during the important summer months.

Ron Smith, an Auburn University Extension entomologist, says that in most seasons, insects can be traced in the spring from host plants before they move on to the cotton crop. However, this spring he was unable to sweep the wild hosts, making specific predictions for the summer months almost impossible.

“Around here, we really cannot project what we are going to see this summer,” Smith says. “But you can expect the normal insects.”

The drought conditions seen this spring could cause aphids and spider mites to become a problem, as they flourish in hot, dry weather, he says. They most likely will be a problem in the traditional cotton-production areas like north Alabama's Tennessee Valley, he says.

Worms likely will be a problem in July, but Smith says there is no way to predict the severity of the pests for this year.

“We'll just have to wait and see and monitor the fields,” he says.

While bollworms have been controlled effectively in the past with pyrethroids, last year they showed some resistance to the economical insecticide, says Smith. He says they could be developing immunity to the chemical, which would force most farmers to spend more per acre on alternative control measures.

To avoid facing insurmountable problems later in the season, Smith recommends that scouts be aware of the possibility that bollworms may force growers to take a different approach.

Phillip Roberts, a University of Georgia Extension entomologist, says he expects a typical summer for Georgia growers, but he also points out that some worms have shown resistance to pyrethroids.

Like Smith, Roberts says it's hard to know exactly what to expect because every year is different. Growers should be aware, he adds, that some locations in Georgia saw a difficult time controlling corn earworms with pyrethroids at the end of the 2005 growing season.

“Once we make a decision to treat at a medium to high rate, we need to do it immediately,” Roberts says. “We need to be aware of what's working now.”

Roberts also acknowledges that pyrethroids are currently one of the most economic solutions to worm problems, and he expresses concern that growers may be showing too much faith in the insecticide.

If pyrethroids don't work, growers likely will have no choice but to use something more expensive. Some of the alternative chemicals — like organophosphates — would cost close to double the amount that pyrethroids are costing per acre.

But Roberts says other species like stinkbugs and beet armyworms will need to be monitored as well, and growers should rely on careful scouting as always to get them through the season.

Mike Donahoe, the Extension director for Santa Rosa County in north Florida, says the situation in Florida is standard for this time of year. In late May, thrips were damaging cotton in its early stages in the Panhandle.

He advises Florida growers to be aware of the possibility that drought conditions could encourage spider mites and beet armyworms, but he expects a typical summer.

“We haven't had any major problems yet, but we really haven't seen anything yet,” Donahoe says. “Scouts need to scout closely.”

Florida growers have seen more pressure from stinkbugs in recent years, and that problem could resurface, he says. Or, like last year, producers could see more bollworms.

Richard Sprenkel, a University of Florida Extension entomologist, says Florida growers will deal with different problems from place to place because of the obvious climate differences. He says grasshoppers could become an issue if conditions continue to be ideal for their existence in and around cotton fields.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Alabama planted 540,000 acres of cotton in 2006, which is 10,000 acres fewer than in 2005. The agency reported Georgia planting 1.3 million acres this year, which was an 80,000-acre increase from 2005. Florida reportedly planted 105,000 acres, which represents a 19,000-acre increase from 2005.

The United States is producing 388,600 more acres of cotton this year than in 2005.

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