Early season insect pressure in the Western Cotton Belt is as diverse as the many diverse cropping environments that occur there. However, producers, researchers and crop consultants in those areas of California, Arizona and New Mexico agree that early and continuous assessments of insect pressure are key to keeping the cotton crop healthy and pest-free.
Planting along the lower Colorado River in Arizona can begin in mid-February. Insect pressure is often related to the warmer temperatures that occur in that area. Winter vegetables can provide a place for pests to feed before moving into young cotton.
Eastern New Mexico is subject to the same weather extremes as the High Plains of Texas. Moderate freezes cull some insects, but the summer’s highs help boost those populations.
The arid nature of the West means that insects don’t have the abundance of feeding opportunities they do in the rest of the Cotton Belt. But, opportunistic pests can get a foothold and when they do, control is much more difficult.
Dr. Peter Ellsworth, Integrated Pest Specialist at the University of Arizona, believes there are several things producers need to be mindful of early during the season.
“Producers need to concentrate on those things that encourage crop health,” he says.
This includes resisting the temptation to overreact to early insect pressure and disrupt the beneficial insects that help the producer maintain a good environment within the field.
“Practicing good farming,” is important, according to Ellsworth. He says paying close attention to irrigation management, nutrient management and plant growth are important keys to building a healthy plant and good field environment.
A watchful eye and restraint are major virtues, according to Ellsworth.
So far this season, except for the snaps of cold weather in Eastern New Mexico, the West has seen a good accumulation of heat units.
Jack Joy, a producer from Artesia, N.M., says three cold spells have put his crop back about two weeks.
“We had a record high one day of about 95 degrees,” he says. “The next day we had a record low of 28 degrees.”
There was some replant in Joy’s area, but mostly it just slowed down the situation.
“Instead of eight to nine days to get out of the ground, it took 10 to 12 days,” Joy says.
Lighter Pest Pressure
Currently, insect pressure in the area is light, with some aphid pressure showing up.
Aphids also appear to be showing up in cotton along the Colorado River as the pest moves out of alfalfa.
“Growers need to think strategically without damaging beneficial insects,” says Ellsworth.
Flonicamid insecticides such as Carbine have proven effective against aphids – and lygus – without affecting populations of beneficial insects in the cotton environment.
In Arizona, some producers have been startled by movement of Iron Cross Blister Beetles through fields of cotton. Ellsworth says these insects do not cause significant damage to cotton as they move from other habitats.
Pressures in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Central Arizona and the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico appear to be light in the early crop.
According to Kevin McDermott of Jess Smith and Sons in Bakersfield, Calif., “Generally, our planting went very well.”
Those producers who were able to plant, despite water issues in the San Joaquin Valley, have an excellent stand. However, similar to fields along the Colorado River and in Eastern New Mexico, there have been some aphids found in the lower part of the San Joaquin Valley.
Brent Murphree is the Cotton Board’s Regional Communication Manager for the West. He resides in Maricopa, Ariz. Contact him at email@example.com.