Smoother year, maybe, for new zones

Farmers who grow cotton in areas to be included in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program for the first time in 2001 may find first-year efforts a little easier, thanks to work in zones already active or that will go on line this year.

“Our new zones will be surrounded by other active eradication zones,” says Charles Allen, director of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc. “That means boll weevil migration will be significantly reduced.”

The exception could be around Lubbock (the High Plains/Caprock Zone) where favorable overwintering may allow significant problems for early eradication efforts.

The other zones coming into the program in 2001, however, will benefit from activity already under way throughout much of the state and in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

“Most of the cotton in the High Plains and Southern Plains will be buffered by other areas that are either well into eradication or beginning a program,” Allen said. “That makes our job easier.”

Allen gave farmers an idea of what they could expect in the first year of eradication last week at the Southwest Crops Production Conference and Expo, a Southwest Farm Press-sponsored event in Lubbock.

Many of the more than 300 participants in the third annual conference produce cotton on the High Plains, and a good percentage of those farm in eradication zones that will be activated this year.

“Eradication follows three basic steps,” Allen said, “map, trap and control.”

He outlined what farmers can expect from the program.

The first year, eradication personnel will work with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to “find where the cotton is.

“We map the fields using GPS equipment and compare our maps with information on file at FSA offices,” Allen said.

The program begins with fall 2001 diapause sprays, intended to prevent as many weevils as possible from overwintering.

“Trapping is important the first year,” Allen said, “although we will treat every field and not base application decisions on trap catches. We will place at least one trap per field to establish a baseline.”

Next spring (2002) the program places one trap every 1/10 mile, possibly every 1/20 in favorable overwintering sites. Each trap location goes into the computer data bank and is checked weekly.

Allen says BWEP personnel routinely change the pheremone attractant and the kill strip in the traps.

Employees use scanners to record information from bar codes on each trap. They also enter weevil numbers on the scanner, record the crop growth stage and dump the catch into airtight plastic bags.

Back in the regional offices, they download the data into the computer, and recharge the hand-held scanners.

Trap catches are even more important going into the second year of the program, Allen says, because weevil numbers and cotton growth stage will trigger pesticide applications.

“We will treat at the first cracked boll in the first year (diapause),” Allen said. “In subsequent years, when the crop reaches the appropriate growth stage and weevil numbers reach the trigger level, we apply malathion. We terminate applications when the crop will no longer host weevils.”

Application triggers vary with crop growth stage. In the spring, from pinhead square to first bloom, 2 weevils per 40 acres will initiate pesticide application.

In mid-season, that number may range from two to five weevils per 40 acres, but Allen says BWEP personnel also consider other pest infestations in making application decisions. Last summer, for instance, applications were kept to a minimum to help farmers limit heavy beet armyworm numbers.

Late season — first open boll to non-hostable plant — application triggers go back to 2 weevils trapped per 40 acres.

Aerial application takes care of almost all acreage. “In sensitive areas, we'll use ground equipment,” Allen said. “Air-planes are equipped with GPS tracking technology to record area flown and area sprayed. That data also goes into the computer for analysis.”

Allen says the program breaks down as follows: Year one, diapause treatments; years two, three and four, season-long trapping, monitoring and control; year five, maintenance.

“By the fifth year, weevil numbers will be down. We'll use fewer traps and program costs will drop.”

Allen said the most important aspect of the program is farmer cooperation. He outlined specific practices growers should follow to make what is a monumental task go a little smoother.

In the diapause year:

  • Farmers should control damaging insects season-long. BWEP will take over weevil control after the first open boll.

  • Concentrate on earliness.

  • Know the field unit supervisor (FUS). He's the first line of communication.

  • Communicate any problems with the FUS and up the chain as necessary.

  • Early harvest and early stalk destruction will make the job easier.

In full-season control:

  • Consider Bt cotton. “Flares of secondary pests are possible because we will lose some beneficial insects.” Allen said.

  • Provide access to all sides of all fields. “We run traps with vehicles. It is the fastest, most economical way to check the huge number of traps,” he said.

  • Continue to report problems to the FUS.

  • Try not to knock down traps. The BWEP has the right to spray any field that is not being trapped properly, but Allen emphasized that the program works better with full cooperation from farmers and program personnel.

  • Control all pests except boll weevils.

  • Concentrate on earliness.

  • Harvest early and destroy stalks as quickly as possible.

Allen said the goal of the BWEP is “to get rid of every boll weevil in the United States. This is not just a High Plains effort or a Texas program. It's nationwide.”

He says efforts in Arizona and other parts of the Cotton Belt show that the program can succeed. “It may take a little longer in Texas because we have much more cotton, but it can be done.”

He points to the Southern Rolling Plains Eradication Zone as an example of the possibilities. “That zone has been declared functionally eradicated. No boll weevil reproduction was detected last year.”

He also singles out Georgia as a prime example of how the program can benefit growers. “From 1972 through 1990, Georgia growers averaged 15 pesticide applications per year. There were peaks and valleys, but that's the average. From 1990 through 2000 (following eradication) applications leveled out at three per year.”

He says farmers can look for a $30 per acre reduction in pesticide costs, 69 more pounds of lint per acre, increased land value, $70 per acre increased profit and fewer pesticide applications, based on information from other regions.

“The boll weevil is not indigenous to the United States. It came in from Central America and Mexico. We want to get rid of it,” he said.

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