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Bad Bugs of Summer

Carroll Smith

Carroll Smith

After reading Alabama entomologist Ron Smith’s My Turn column, “Picking On The Terrace Row,” I began to think about my own memories associated with cotton insects, the devastation they can cause and some of the methods associated with their control.

As a child growing up in east-central Louisiana, I remember cotton fields lining every road leading into the small town in which I lived. In fact, one was right across the street that ran in front of the elementary school. In May, during recess, some of my friends and I would lie on the incline of a grassy ditch bank on the edge of campus and watch the crop duster as it circled the field. The plane lined up on the flagmen and then flew in low to spray the tops of the young cotton plants with a cloud of insecticide.

I also remember singing Brook Benton’s version of “The Boll Weevil Song,” which rocketed up the charts in the summer of 1961. Years later, when the Boll Weevil Eradication Program was in full swing, bright, florescent yellow-green pheromone traps were set alongside cotton fields to lure this destructive pest into the trap’s collection chamber. The boll weevil was finally completely eradicated except for some cotton-growing areas of South Texas next to the Mexican border, marking a sea change in U.S. cotton production.

And those of us who were working in the cotton industry in the early 1990s will never forget the horrific fall armyworm infestation that occurred in Alabama. The numbers were legendary. Hoards of these pests literally marched across rural roads, leaving behind a devastated cotton field on their way to attack a healthy one. Row after row of completely stripped cotton plants that looked like bouquets of thin sticks were hard to comprehend.

And out West, aphids and whiteflies plague cotton farmers by secreting honeydew onto cotton, which literally “gums up the works” at spinning mills and negatively affects cotton sales and prices. Even today, those who farm in areas where these pests are present have to constantly monitor their crops and control these pests to avoid being left with “sticky cotton” at the end of the season.

When it comes to destructive cotton arthropods, I really can’t think of anything nice to say. What is encouraging are the great strides that have been made in risk-assessment technology, cultural practices and control products. And hats off to our research and Extension entomologists, crop consultants and industry personnel who steadfastly refuse to give up the battle against the bad bugs of summer.

If you have comments, please send them to: Cotton Farming Magazine, 7201 Eastern Ave., Germantown, TN, 38138. Contact Carroll Smith via email at csmith@onegrower.com.