Hurricane Dolly is but a memory in the weather history books, yet she continues to threaten the Rio Grande Valley’s cotton industry in the form of scattered cottonseeds, Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts say.
Those seeds are now sprouting in the most unlikely of places, providing food and shelter for the dreaded boll weevil, whose populations could severely damage next year’s crop, said LeeRoy Rock, an AgriLife Extension cotton entomologist in Weslaco.
“These volunteer cotton crops are now popping up everywhere,” Rock said. “We’ve seen them along roadsides, in irrigation ditches, even in residential lawns and flowerbeds. It’s important that everybody pitch in to get rid of them.”
Dolly’s strong winds and heavy rains in late July destroyed most of what was left of the 2008 cotton crop, already battered by drought then by heavy rains. But in the process, Rock said, she also scattered lint and seeds far and wide.
“We’re still calculating damage estimates for the 2008 cotton crop,” he said, “but we’re also concerned about what boll weevils could do to the 2009 crop now that they have plenty of volunteer crops in which to feed and reproduce.”
State law mandates that cotton growers destroy any remnants of cotton stalks by Sept. 1 so as to remove over-wintering sites for boll weevils.
Several agencies, including AgriLife Extension, Texas Department of Agriculture and the Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation are working with growers to implement an integrated pest management approach to prevent a boll weevil population explosion in 2009, Rock said.
But with so many volunteer plants now sprouting outside commercial cotton fields, control will be difficult at best.
“Eradicating post-season cotton stalks is routine work for growers,” he said, “But now we’re asking for the public’s help in getting rid of any cotton plants they may encounter in their landscaping by simply pulling them up by hand.”
City and state road maintenance personnel are also being asked to help by mowing and spraying herbicide on roadsides. Irrigation districts can help by removing cotton plants from irrigation and drainage ditches, he said.
“If we can get residents to pull cotton plants out of their flowerbeds and landscaping in the urban areas of the Valley, that will go a long way toward reducing the amount of insecticides growers will have to spray to control boll weevils this fall and in the spring and summer of 2009,” Rock said.
“This kind of IPM approach is cost effective and helps preserve our natural resources by decreasing the amount of chemical introduced into the environment,” he said.
For more information, contact Rock at 956-968-5581.