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Master Bug-Buster On A 40-Year Roll

gus lorenzI was raised on a farm in Arkansas, but we didn’t grow cotton. When I went to college, somebody said I should take an entomology class. I didn’t know what that was, but I enjoyed it and decided to take another one. That was my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

The guy teaching the class came in one day and said, “We are looking to hire cotton scouts this summer.” I said, “What’s a cotton scout?” He said, “You go out in the field, look at cotton, check it for bugs and see if it needs to be sprayed. Are you interested?”

That summer we loaded up in a truck and drove to Portland, Arkansas. I lived in a trailer, scouted cotton every day and fell in love with it. I got a lot of mentoring from Dr. Charles Lincoln — who was an icon in cotton entomology — and Dr. Jake Phillips. I enjoyed that summer, and they asked me to come back the next year as a crew chief. That’s when my career in entomology really took off. So I have been scouting cotton for about 40 years.

I remember going to meetings where about 100 growers would gather at somebody’s farm shop. I watched Dr. Phillips get up on the stump and really talk. This was before Bollgard cotton, so worms were a big deal. Pyrethroids came on the market, and we watched how they performed compared to the old standards like EPN-Methyl. Pyrethroids were very effective on worms and probably increased yields by half a bale per acre. Then budworms developed resistance and got harder and harder to kill.

The boll weevil eradication grower meetings got pretty tough at times. I remember getting cussed out, glared at and watching people whisper to each other and point at me. It was ugly, but we finally got through the program, eradicated the weevil, increased our yields and lowered our costs. Today, some people don’t even know what a boll weevil looks like.

I also spent time at Mississippi State working under Dr. Randy Luttrell spraying cotton insecticide trials. After a couple of years, I got an offer to come back to Arkansas as a county agent in Jefferson County where I ran the scouting program. At the time, there were about 60,000 acres of cotton in Jefferson County, and we scouted about half of them. That’s when Marvin Wall showed me the ins and outs of cotton entomology. Jake Phillips and Marvin are the guys who taught me practical, economical cotton insect control. They are my heroes.

I learned a lot about kids while running the scouting program. Some were very diligent and others were there just to get a paycheck. Every day, I got up before the sun rose to check behind the scouts. Sometimes I would sneak around to watch them to make sure they were doing their job. We had strict scouting procedures.

I had a kid tell me one time, “I saw you up on that levee watching us scout.” I said, “Is that so?” He said, “Well, I don’t appreciate it.” I said, “I don’t much care if you appreciate it or not, I have a job out here to serve the growers, and I am going to do whatever I have to do. If you don’t like it, you can pack your stuff, get in that truck and go to the house.”

I had to keep those kids motivated, and today I am proud that some of them, like Jack Haney and Tracy Welch, make their living as consultants. It’s gratifying to see them doing what I trained them to do.

In looking back at my career, I have enjoyed working with the agriculture community — the growers, the consultants, the industry folks. I also work with a good group of people every day — program associates and graduate students. I couldn’t do my job without my crew. They are good folks, and we always have fun.

I’m out.

— Gus Lorenz
Lonoke, Arkansas
glorenz@uaex.edu