Thrips In Southeast Cotton Can Be A Problem

Monty Bain
By Monty Bain
Dadeville, Alabama

If not managed properly, thrips can cause devasting losses to cotton grown in the Southeast. Injury symptoms can range from leaf curling to delays in crop maturity, stand loss and reduced lint. And less lint means less money in producers’ pockets. 

“Thrips are a top-five pest in terms of acres treated in every Southeastern state, and they’ve been a priority for Cotton Incorporated-funded research projects every year I’ve been with the company,” said Ryan Kurtz, Vice President of Ag & Environmental Research at Cotton Incorporated. 

Research has proven that if thrips aren’t managed timely and properly, a farmer could experience as much as a 400- to 600-pound yield loss. The application of aldicarb insecticide was once the primary option used by cotton producers in the Southeast to reduce thrips, but over the past 20 years, limited availability and the need for specialized equipment has producers primarily using seed treatments, in-furrow liquids and/or foliar sprays. 

Control Weeds And Scout

For the past 10 to 12 years, entomologists from the cotton-producing states in the Southeast have worked together to develop practices and recommendations for managing thrips. One of those entomologists, Dr. Sally Taylor from Virginia Tech, has recently joined Cotton Incorporated’s Ag & Environmental Research team.

“We’re lucky to have Sally joining us since Virginia has the highest level of thrips in the Southeast. She brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in thrips management to the team,” said Kurtz.   

Photos of cotton seedlings planted with (top) and without (bottom) an insecticidal seed treatment to control thrips. Note that even with a seed treatment, if plants display thrips injury, and populations are active, a foliar application may be recommended.

When asked about her recommendations for battling thrips in the Southeast, Dr. Taylor said, “Seed treatments can provide control of thrips and give an increased lint yield. If you supplement with foliar treatments, you can improve your seedling size and lint yield. The first leaf stage is the time you want to apply a supplemental foliar spray.  If you don’t scout your cotton and get on thrips early, you could cut into your yield and your profits. So, weed control and scouting for thrips should be a priority.”

Other Thrips Prevention Tools

Another option in thrips prevention is a new biotechnology called ThryvOn™ that was developed by Bayer CropScience. ThryvOn™ started out as a technology to deter tarnished plant bugs. However, as researchers have continued to evaluate the technology, they have found that its true benefit comes in protecting early season cotton from thrips. Unlike other methods, ThryvOn™ Technology is bred into the plant, thus decreasing the need for insecticide applications. It doesn’t cause thrips or plant bugs to die from eating on the vegetative growths. Instead, it makes the plant less desirable, thus causing a lower population of adults to lay their offspring. 

Producers also have access to a “Thrips Infestation Predictor” tool thanks to North Carolina State University’s Climate Office (https://products.climate.ncsu.edu/ag/cottontip/). The Thrips Infestation Predictor for Cotton uses weather data to make predictions of:

Thrips dispersal timing.

Cotton growth affecting seedling susceptibility.

Injury risk that results from thrips dispersal and seedling susceptibility occurring at the same time. Running this tool requires users to enter a planting date and a location. Additionally, users can adjust how many days to run and display model output.

With the real threat of thrips damage in the Southeast, Cotton Incorporated is dedicated to funding research, employing experts and providing tools to growers — all in the hopes of protecting producer profitability. For more information on thrip-related research projects, visit cottoncultivated.cottoninc.com.   


Monty Bain is the Cotton Board’s regional communication manager for the Southeast. Email him at mbain@cottonboard.org.

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